Qixin and Mercedes’ new paper deriving a threshold for antigenic diversity for falciparum malaria transmission in regions where malaria is highly endemic was recently published in PLOS Computational Biology. In regions where falciparum malaria is highly endemic, the vast diversity of the malaria parasite can result in the prevalence of asymptomatic infection and only partial protection to re-infection despite previous exposure. This large antigenic diversity complicates efforts to control and elimination malaria in these regions. Qixin and Mercedes proposed a threshold quantity for antigenic innovation, which they called Rdiv, which measured the potential of transmission to accumulate new antigenic variants over time. When Rdiv is pushed below one by reduced transmission intensity, new genes encoding this variation can no longer accumulate, resulting in a lower number of strains and facilitating further intervention. This innovation number can be applied to other infectious diseases with fast turnover of antigens, where large standing diversity similarly inhibits successful intervention.

The full published study can be found on the PLOS Computational Biology website.