A genomics study has revealed that a strain of malaria resistant to both drugs used for treatment has spread rapidly across Asia. 

Malaria causes approximately a million deaths worldwide in each year and is a serious public health issue, particularly in Asia. The widely used anti-malarial drugs dihydroartemisinin and piperaquine have been relatively effective treatments for the disease. However, a new strain of malaria, named KEL1/PLA1 has evolved to be resistant to both drugs.

Scientists believe the resistant strain evolved due to the selection pressure of the current treatments. Dihydroartemisinin and piperaquine are effective against most other strains of malaria but are less effective against the KEL1/PLA1 strain. As these drugs are the most common treatment across Asia the resistant strain was selected for.

The genomic study revealed that the resistant malaria strain is now the dominant strain in Vietnam, Laos and Northeastern Thailand. It also revealed that the resistant strain has new mutations in the chloroquine resistance transporter gene (crt). The crt gene correlates with complete resistance from both drugs.

The genomics study should inform both the public health response and development of future therapies. This is not the first time genetics has been used to tackle malaria. Researchers have previously genetically engineered mosquitoes to cause their offspring to die and reduce the population size. Both studies indicate that genetic editing may be the most effective way of tacking malaria.