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How the malaria parasite forms a protective bubble of host cell membrane – a potential target for treatment

16 July 2021

Parasite Protection

Around the world, scientists tackle malaria by killing the mosquitos which spread the disease or protecting humans from bites – but what about those already infected? Antimalarial drugs aim to destroy parasites already circulating in the body, but also risk encouraging them to mutate and adapt. Yet there may be another way. Here lattice light-sheet microscopy uses gentle patterns of light to illuminate malarial parasites (blue) as they invade a cheerful-looking human blood cell (purple), possibly solving a long-term mystery. The protective bubble or vacuole that envelops the parasite as it invades is actually a chunk of membrane ripped away from the blood cell itself. A new generation of antimalarial medications might target molecules used in forming these vacuoles, stunting the parasite’s spread without giving it cause to mutate.

Written by John Ankers

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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