Scientists are scrambling to stay a step ahead of a fast-evolving strain of malaria-causing parasite that has developed resistance to artemisinin, the most important drug used to fight the disease. Researchers examining the DNA of malaria parasites from around the world found three separate artemisinin-resistant strains in western Cambodia that appear to have evolved independently of each other, the BBC reports. The region has produced multiple waves of drug-resistant malaria parasites for reasons that are not fully understood.
"All the most effective drugs that we have had in the last few decades have been one by one rendered useless by the remarkable ability of this parasite to mutate and develop resistance," the lead researcher says. "Artemisinin right now works very well. It is the best weapon we have against the disease, and we need to keep it." Researchers plan to use genetic fingerprinting to track the spread of the drug-resistant parasites and figure out a way to stop it from happening again, the Guardian reports.