Database lets researchers worldwide access genome of malarial parasite

PHILADELPHIA -- A database cataloging the genome of Plasmodium falciparum, the parasite responsible for the vast majority of the world's malaria deaths, will be distributed to tens of thousands of scientists worldwide via a CD-ROM inserted in the Oct. 31 issue of the journal Nature.

The database, developed by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, is described in a paper in the Oct. 3 issue of Nature, which is devoted to the sequencing of the Plasmodium genome. More than a million people die of malaria each year, and widespread access to information on the parasite's genetic composition should speed the search for new drugs and vaccines to combat the disease.

"The sequencing of Plasmodium falciparum has generated huge amounts of data," said David S. Roos, director of Penn's Genomics Institute, who has spearheaded the Plasmodium database project. "It is important to provide researchers with access to this data as soon as possible and to equip them with tools to transform this data into a useful form."

The Web-based database builds upon sequencing efforts conducted by researchers at the Institute for Genomic Research in Rockville, Md., Stanford University and Britain's Sanger Institute.

"Malaria biologists are a more diverse and dispersed community than those who study fruit fly or yeast genomes," Roos and his co-authors write this week in Nature. "They encompass field scientists in Cameroon, epidemiologists in Papua New Guinea, pharmaceutical developers in India [and] molecular geneticists in Brazil. ... Having the data literally 'in hand' provides scientists everywhere with a sense of ownership and involvement in the Plasmodium genome project, expediting the pace of research and discovery."

Scientists can use the PlasmoDB database to examine chromosome organization, to scan the genome for genes, to predict the structure of these genes and the function of the proteins they encode, to look for patterns of nucleotide

Contact: Steve Bradt
University of Pennsylvania

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