Why do malaria parasites go bananas before sex?

Highlighting significant developments that have been reported in the last quarter by staff in our School

Going Bananas

The sexual stages of the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum adopt a unique crescent shape which is essential for transmission via mosquitoes. In work published in PLoS Pathogens, Dr Matthew Dixon and colleagues from the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, have discovered how this shape is achieved. Techniques called Serial Block Face Scanning Electron Microscopy and 3D Structured Illumination Microscopy were used to provide 3D views of the elongating parasite at unprecedented resolution. Protein interaction profiling was used to identify the proteins that help drive the shape change. Inducible genetic disruption of the encoding genes showed that these proteins are essential for gametocyte elongation and survival. This work points to potential targets for the development of transmission-blocking therapies.

The dramatic metamorphosis of gametocytes is highlighted in these 3D rendered images
from Serial Block Face Scanning Electron Microscopy (SBF-SEM). A membrane structure
called the inner membrane complex (magenta) drives gametocyte elongation.
The nucleus (yellow), mitochondria (red) and red blood cell (dark red) are also rendered.
Image Credit: Boyin Liu and Matthew Dixon, Department of Biochemistry and
Molecular Biology, Bio21 Institute, University of Melbourne.