The discovery could help in the design of new drugs to stop the spread of the killer disease.
"SHLP1 is absent in humans and can be explored as an excellent target for malaria transmission control," says Rita Tewari of the Centre for Genetics and Genomics in the School of Biology at the University of Nottingham. "Prevention of malaria transmission to and from the mosquito is vital in order to stop the devastating spread of malaria. Targeting SHLP1 could be an important step to achieve this goal.
"Half the world's population remains at risk from malaria. The disease kills 1.2 million people every year. In 2010, 90 percent of all malaria deaths occurred in Africa—mostly among children younger than the age of five.
Described in the journal Cell Reports, SHLP1 is found only in bacteria, fungi, protists (organisms that paved the way for the evolution of early plants, animals, and fungi), and plants.
Scientists discovered how it controls development of the parasite at an essential stage of its life cycle. The parasite must move between human and mosquito in its quest to spread the disease. It does this every time the mosquito bites.
Removing the enzyme causes defects in structures vital for invading the mosquito gut—effectively stopping the mosquito from passing the disease on to another victim.
Researchers from Imperial College London, University of Oxford, the MRC National Institute for Medical Research, and the University of Edinburgh contributed to the study that was funded by the MRC and the Wellcome Trust.