Agent-based simulations and network analyses reveal the strain structure of falciparum malaria

Seminar/Forum

Agent-based simulations and network analyses reveal the strain structure of falciparum malaria

Harold Woodruff Theatre
Microbiology (Building 184)

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T: 83440707

asiebel@unimelb.edu.au

The parasite Plasmodium falciparum is the causative agent of malaria, a major human health burden in sub-Saharan Africa. In endemic areas of high transmission, tens of thousands of genes encode for the major antigen of the parasite, resulting in an exorbitant number of distinct parasite strains, which cause chronic malaria infections. Human hosts gain specific immunity towards the different antigens they have been exposed to. This population memory gives an advantage to rare gene variants and a disadvantage to common ones. It is unclear, however, whether such immune selection acts as a dominant force in structuring parasites' enormous diversity, especially given the opposing mixing effect of high recombination rates. We propose the combination of network analyses of genetic similarity with agent-based models that track immunememory in each host, to identify signatures of dominant processes underlying strain structure.

We test our theoretical predictions using empirical molecular data from Ghana, unique in their depth of population sampling. We find that networks of repertoire similarity show distinctive signatures of immune selection when compared to networks obtained with neutral models. Application of these network analyses to empirical isolates from asymptomatic infections from local populations in Ghana provides unequivocal evidence for an important role of immune selection at both static and temporal levels.

Presenter

  • Dr Qixin He
    Dr Qixin He, Postdoctoral researcher