A new study gives an important understanding of how molecular motor proteins are involved in malaria transmission

Thursday, 28 July 2022

Scientists at the University of Nottingham have made a major breakthrough in understanding how malaria parasites divide and transmit the disease, which could be a major step forwards in helping to prevent one of the biggest killer infections in the world.

Malaria is still the deadliest parasitic disease worldwide, with approximately 241 million cases and over half a million deaths annually. It is caused by a single-celled parasite called Plasmodium, which is transmitted between people by the female Anopheles mosquito when they bite to take blood.

In this new study, published in PLOS Biology, scientists have uncovered the crucial roles of a group of motor proteins named kinesins during the parasite life cycle.

Different locations of kinesins in male cells of malaria parasite

The research, led by Rita Tewari, Professor of Parasite Cell Biology in the University’s School of Life Sciences, has shown the significance of kinesins in basic cellular processes needed for malaria parasite development, multiplication and invasion, most importantly within the mosquitoes that transmit the parasite.

Kinesins are molecular motor proteins that use energy from the hydrolysis of adenosine triphosphate (ATP - a universal store of energy in all cells), and function in various cellular processes. They are involved in transport, cell division, cell polarity and cell motility.

This latest study showed that of the nine kinesins present in the parasite genome, eight are required for the various functions of cell proliferation to cell movement in the mosquito host which was very surprising.

Researchers at the University of Nottingham have studied the location and function of all kinesins in live parasite cells at various stages of development, both in the mosquitoes which transmit the disease, and in the host where it causes disease. These proteins are important potential drug targets, hence the importance of this study in the search for new intervention targets.

Professor Tewari said: “This is an important genome-wide study and an essential resource for studying the various morphologically distinct parasite cells involved in parasite transmission. It shows how these important motors proteins are involved in forming molecular tracks for movement, multiplication, and transmission.”

Professor Rita Tewari

Dr Zeeshan, who is the first author of the paper, said: “This is a comprehensive study on parasite molecular motors. It was very challenging to capture the dynamics of these proteins in live parasite cells within mosquitoes. Most importantly, we could study the formation of the male gamete (sperm), which involves a rapid multiplication process that completes within 10-12 min after the female mosquito has ingested blood from an infected host. Multiple kinesins are involved in efficient production of male gametes and deletion of kinesin genes halts parasite transmission, a discovery that can be explored further for drug discovery.

“In addition, we found one motor protein, kinesin-13, which is essential for parasite multiplication in all stages of the life cycle.”

The study was carried out in collaboration with several scientists; Tony Holder at the Francis Crick Institute, London; Prof Carolyn Moores at Birbeck College; Profs Sue Vaughan and David Ferguson at Oxford Brookes; Prof Mathieu Brochet and Ravish Raspa at the University of Geneva; and Prof Karine Le Roch and Steven Abel at the University of California. This study demonstrates the power of multidisciplinary science and how networking and collaboration lead greater global understanding in science. The work was funded by BBSRC, MRC, CRUK, Wellcome Trust, NIH and NIAID.

Story credits

More information is available from Professor Rita Tewari at 

Charlotte Anscombe - Media Relations Manager - Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences
Phone: 0115 748 4417

Notes to editors:

The University of Nottingham

Our academics can now be interviewed for broadcast via our Media Hub, which offers a Quicklink fixed camera and ISDN line facilities at Jubilee campus. For further information please contact a member of the Press Office on +44 (0)115 951 5798, email

For up to the minute media alerts, follow us on Twitter

The University of Nottingham is a research-intensive university with a proud heritage. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience, and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our students. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement. Ranked 18th in the UK by the QS World University Rankings 2023, the University’s state-of-the-art facilities and inclusive and disability sport provision is reflected in its crowning as The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide Sports University of the Year twice in three years, most recently in 2021. We are ranked seventh for research power in the UK according to REF 2021. We have six beacons of research excellence helping to transform lives and change the world; we are also a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally. Alongside Nottingham Trent University, we lead the Universities for Nottingham initiative, a pioneering collaboration which brings together the combined strength and civic missions of Nottingham’s two world-class universities and is working with local communities and partners to aid recovery and renewal following the COVID-19 pandemic.

More news…

Media Relations - External Relations

The University of Nottingham
C Floor, Pope Building (Room C4)
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

telephone: +44 (0) 115 951 5798