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Malaria molecular surveillance in the Peruvian Amazon with a novel highly multiplexed Plasmodium falciparum AmpliSeq assay

Journal Contribution - Journal Article

Molecular surveillance for malaria has great potential to support national malaria control programs (NMCPs). To bridge the gap between research and implementation, several applications (use cases) have been identified to align research, technology development, and public health efforts. For implementation at NMCPs, there is an urgent need for feasible and cost-effective tools. We designed a new highly multiplexed deep sequencing assay (Pf AmpliSeq), which is compatible with benchtop sequencers, that allows high-accuracy sequencing with higher coverage and lower cost than whole-genome sequencing (WGS), targeting genomic regions of interest. The novelty of the assay is its high number of targets multiplexed into one easy workflow, combining population genetic markers with 13 nearly full-length resistance genes, which is applicable for many different use cases. We provide the first proof of principle for hrp2 and hrp3 deletion detection using amplicon sequencing. Initial sequence data processing can be performed automatically, and subsequent variant analysis requires minimal bioinformatic skills using any tabulated data analysis program. The assay was validated using a retrospective sample collection (n = 254) from the Peruvian Amazon between 2003 and 2018. By combining phenotypic markers and a within-country 28-single-nucleotide-polymorphism (SNP) barcode, we were able to distinguish different lineages with multiple resistance haplotypes (in dhfr, dhps, crt and mdr1) and hrp2 and hrp3 deletions, which have been increasing in recent years. We found no evidence to suggest the emergence of artemisinin (ART) resistance in Peru. These findings indicate a parasite population that is under drug pressure but is susceptible to current antimalarials and demonstrate the added value of a highly multiplexed molecular tool to inform malaria strategies and surveillance systems. IMPORTANCE While the power of next-generation sequencing technologies to inform and guide malaria control programs has become broadly recognized, the integration of genomic data for operational incorporation into malaria surveillance remains a challenge in most countries where malaria is endemic. The main obstacles include limited infrastructure, limited access to high-throughput sequencing facilities, and the need for local capacity to run an in-country analysis of genomes at a large-enough scale to be informative for surveillance. In addition, there is a lack of standardized laboratory protocols and automated analysis pipelines to generate reproducible and timely results useful for relevant stakeholders. With our standardized laboratory and bioinformatic workflow, malaria genetic surveillance data can be readily generated by surveillance researchers and malaria control programs in countries of endemicity, increasing ownership and ensuring timely results for informed decision- and policy-making.

Journal: Microbiology Spectrum
ISSN: 2165-0497
Issue: 2
Volume: 11
Publication year:2023