The genome of model malaria parasites, and comparative genomics
Carlton J, Silva J, Hall N
The field of comparative genomics of malaria parasites has recently come of age with the completion of the whole genome sequences of the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum and a rodent malaria model, Plasmodium yoelii yoelii. With several other genome sequencing projects of different model and human malaria parasite species underway, comparing genomes from multiple species has necessitated the development of improved informatics tools and analyses. Results from initial comparative analyses reveal striking conservation of gene synteny between malaria species within conserved chromosome cores, in contrast to reduced homology within subtelomeric regions, in line with previous findings on a smaller scale. Genes that elicit a host immune response are frequently found to be species-specific, although a large variant multigene family is common to many rodent malaria species and Plasmodium vivax. Sequence alignment of syntenic regions from multiple species has revealed the similarity between species in coding regions to be high relative to non-coding regions, and phylogenetic footprinting studies promise to reveal conserved motifs in the latter. Comparison of non-synonymous substitution rates between orthologous genes is proving a powerful technique for identifying genes under selection pressure, and may be useful for vaccine design. This is a stimulating time for comparative genomics of model and human malaria parasites, which promises to produce useful results for the development of antimalarial drugs and vaccines.