Good news! Carbohydrates are not our enemy, especially when it comes to stopping the spread of malaria, suggests a study.
According to researchers, carbohydrates on the surface of malaria parasites play a critical role in malaria's ability to infect mosquito and human hosts.
The discovery also suggests steps that may improve the only malaria vaccine approved to protect people against Plasmodium falciparum malaria - the most deadly form of the disease.
Justin Boddey led the research from the Univeristy of Alberta, Canada.
Dr Justin Boddey said the team had shown that the malaria parasite 'tag' its proteins with carbohydrates in order to stabilise and transport them and that this process was crucial to completing the parasite's lifecycle.
"Malaria parasites have a complex lifecycle that involves constant shape shifting to evade detection and infect humans and subsequently mosquitoes," Dr Boddey said.
They found that the parasite's ability to 'tag' key proteins with carbohydrates is important for two stages of the malaria lifecycle.
It is critical for the earliest stages of human infection, when the parasite migrates through the body and invades in the liver and later when it is transmitted back to the mosquito from an infected human, enabling the parasite to be spread between people.
Dr Goddard-Borger said the research had attracted a lot of interest because of the implications it has for improving malaria vaccine design.
"It was hoped that the vaccine would generate a good antibody response that protected against the parasite, however it has unfortunately not been as effective at evoking protective immunity as hoped," Dr Goddard-Borger said.
"Now that we know how important these carbohydrates are to the parasite, we can be confident that the malaria parasite cannot 'escape' vaccination pressure by doing away with its carbohydrates," he added.
This discovery reveals that carbohydrates are very important, and in two completely different lifecycle stages. This is exciting because to ultimately eradicate malaria the researchers need combined approaches that attack different stages of the parasite at once, Dr Boddey noted.
The research appears in Nature Communications journal.