A novel tool for the generation of conditional knockouts to study gene function across the Plasmodium falciparum life cycle

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Plasmodium falciparum has a complex life cycle that involves interaction with multiple tissues inside the human and mosquito hosts. Identification of essential genes at all different stages of the P. falciparum life cycle is urgently required for clinical development of tools for malaria control and eradication. However, the study of P. falciparum is limited by the inability to genetically modify the parasite throughout its life cycle with the currently available genetic tools. Here, we describe the detailed characterization of a new marker-free P. falciparum parasite line that expresses rapamycin-inducible Cre recombinase across the full life cycle. Using this parasite line, we were able to conditionally delete the essential invasion ligand AMA1 in three different developmental stages for the first time. We further confirm efficient gene deletion by targeting the nonessential kinase FIKK7.1.IMPORTANCE One of the major limitations in studying P. falciparum is that so far only asexual stages are amenable to rapid conditional genetic modification. The most promising drug targets and vaccine candidates, however, have been refractory to genetic modification because they are essential during the blood stage or for transmission in the mosquito vector. This leaves a major gap in our understanding of parasite proteins in most life cycle stages and hinders genetic validation of drug and vaccine targets. Here, we describe a method that supports conditional gene deletion across the P. falciparum life cycle for the first time. We demonstrate its potential by deleting essential and nonessential genes at different parasite stages, which opens up completely new avenues for the study of malaria and drug development. It may also allow the realization of novel vaccination strategies using attenuated parasites.

Journal details

Journal mBio
Volume 10
Issue number 5
Pages e01170-19
Publication date