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Timing the malarial clock
July/August 2020
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DURHAM, N.C.—Malaria is known to cause repeating cycles of fevers and chills as new batches of parasites grow inside red blood cells before being released into the body. A new study published in Science by a team from Duke University, Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Florida Atlantic University and Montana State University has found that this activity is due to rhythms in the malaria parasite's gene activity levels, which triggers genes to increase and decrease expression at set intervals. Until now, it wasn't known whether the parasites' rhythms were autonomous or coordinated to that of their hosts, but growing strains of the malaria parasite in the lab provided the answer. Parasites from the same strain acted in concert, and of the studied genes, approximately 90 percent seemed to be clock-controlled, similar to humans' circadian rhythms. The scientists are now searching for crosstalk between malaria's internal clock and that of human's immune system.

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