Malaria is a mosquito transmitted disease that still poses a major public health problem to a large portion of the world, with 216 million cases and nearly 0.5 million deaths in 2016. Malaria is caused by Plasmodium parasites that are transmitted to people through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes. Plasmodium are single cell eukaryotes with complex life cycles, and are only very distantly related to model eukaryotes such as yeast or nematode worms. As a result, almost two decades since the completion of the first Plasmodium reference genome, nearly 50% of the 5,000+ genes in the genome lack an annotated function.
PlasmoGEM (the Plasmodium Genetic Modification Project) is an interdisciplinary group at the Wellcome Sanger Institute focussed on changing the scale of malaria experimental genetics.
PlasmoGEM develops new genetic tools and makes them freely available to the malaria research community. It also uses those tools to carry out large-scale genetic screens, such as a recent screen that quantified blood-stage growth rates for knockouts of over half the Plasmodium berghei genome (Bushell et al., Cell 2017).
PlasmoGEM is a collaborative project shared across the Rayner, Lee and Billker groups.
We are using genomics to get at important problems in infectious disease, with a strong desire to translate this into tools for disease control and elimination, but we are also at the forefront of basic research into microbial ecology, evolutionary genetics and the biology of parasitism.
Marcus Lee’s group is interested in the molecular basis of drug resistance in the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum, and in developing molecular genetics tools to interrogate gene function in this important pathogen.
Julian Rayner's group investigates the molecular details of human-parasite interactions during the P. falciparum blood stages, with a particular focus on large-scale experimental approaches to understanding erythrocyte invasion.