INDICASAT researchers deciphered the 'L. panamensis' genome

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A team of researchers affiliated with the Institute of Scientific Research and High Technology Services (INDICASAT) –located at the City of Knowledge-, described the complete genome of the parasite Leishmania panamensis, cause of leishmaniasis in Panama, a disease associated with poverty that affects mainly children in rural areas.

There are genomes already described for other similar species of the parasite, such as L. braziliensis, but this is the first genome of Leishmania being sequenced at this level in an institute in a small country, and not by a large international consortium. The INDICASAT research team consisted of Ricardo Lleonart, Alejandro Llanes and Carlos Restrepo.

Alejandro Llanes, biochemist and doctorate student of biotechnology in INDICASAT, stated that "bioinformatics -computing application that finds solutions to biological problems- has been fundamental to the sequencing of the genome of L.panamensis."

The project, which allows to know more about the biology of this parasite and have better tools for epidemiological surveillance, began in late 2011 and received funding and support from the National Secretariat of Science, Technology and Innovation -also headquartered at the City of Knowledge-, Acharya Nagarjuna University in India and businessman Arturo Melo.

To sequence and describe in detail the characteristics of the Leishmania genome, the team assembled a cluster of parallel computing, with eight computers that added their processing power, and which represents an added value to the study because the workstation is available to other researchers.

Dr. Ricardo Lleonart stated that "the genome is now accessible to researchers worldwide through the database of the National Institutes of Health (NIH)."

Currently, antimonials that are used to treat cutaneous leishmaniasis have problems of toxicity and side effects, they are also old and the parasite is starting to develop resistance, plus there are lots of unresolved cases. Furthermore, as indicated by Lleonart, "the incidence of the disease is increasing because human populations are getting deeper and deeper into forested areas."

Another problem is that approximately 5% of patients develop mucocutaneous leishmaniasis, which can have distorting effects on the face, mucous membranes of the nose and mouth. However, this reference genome can start other studies, such as parasite resistance to current drugs.

This breakthrough paves the way for the study of resistance and identifies new targets to create vaccines and drugs.

Text: Tamara Del Moral

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