Detection of heterogeneous copy number variation reveals the dynamics of adaptation in malaria parasites

Liu, Shiwei, Biology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Guler, Jennifer, University of Virginia

Malaria continues to be a global health problem, infecting 241 million people and causing 627,000 deaths in 2020 globally. One of the main factors contributing to the stalled progress of malaria elimination is the adaptive nature of the Plasmodium parasite, which has led to increasing resistance to antimalarial drugs. It is critical to understand the molecular mechanism of adaptation in Plasmodium falciparum parasites to develop new interventions to alleviate the global health burden caused by malaria. In this dissertation, I introduced different methods and approaches to study the heterogenous copy number variations that drive the adaptation of the malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, to environmental changes like antimalarial drug and other stressed conditions. I described a study to understand the level of diversity in copy number variations of specific genes and genes across the whole genome in Plasmodium parasites. With these new knowledge and tools, we investigated our hypothesis of parasite adaptation through copy number variations, which can potentially allow us to develop new strategies to block the processes that contribute to resistance development in malaria parasites in the future. With the understanding of resistance development, we may extend the effectiveness of current and future antimalarial drugs, which can slow the spread of resistant parasites to new areas and help eliminate malaria.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Malaria, Copy number variation, Adaptation, Single cell sequencing, Nanopore sequencing
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