Expatriates relocating abroad to countries in sub-Saharan Africa might not have to worry about malaria in the future, following a breakthrough in the search for a vaccine against the illness.
Scientists at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) have managed to engineer algae so it produces malaria proteins that encourage mice to develop antibodies against Plasmodium falciparum – the parasite that causes one of the most severe forms of the condition.
Initial proof-of-principle investigations indicated this vaccine prevented malaria from being transmitted to the animals.
The study, which was published in the journal PLoS One, was the result of collaboration between biologists at UCSD School of Medicine's Center for Tropical Medicine and Emerging Infectious Diseases, alongside the Division of Biological Sciences and San Diego Center for Algae Technology.
Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, which is used as a genetic model organism in many international healthcare research laboratories, was utilised to produce the proteins.
A previous study by UCSD specialists had revealed this edible green alga could produce many complex molecules needed for the human body, including growth hormones and monoclonal antibodies.
Up to two billion people live in areas that put them at risk of malarial infection, which would make it an expensive and difficult task to inoculate all of these individuals with vaccinations.
In 2010, between 537,000 and 907,000 people died from Malaria, with the majority of these fatal cases among African children, the World Health Organisation revealed.
"Realistically, the only way a malaria vaccine will ever be used is if it can be produced at a fraction of the cost of current vaccines," UCSD professor of biology and research leader Stephen Mayfield declared.
Although he noted it is hard to determine whether or not the proteins created by the algae are "perfect", the specialist said the substances "recognise the native proteins in malaria and – inside the mosquito – block the development of the malaria parasite".
The next step for the scientists is to determine whether the proteins work on humans, before examining if they can be modified to produce the same response when eaten instead of injected.