Deadly parasites create unique cellular structures to survive

Scientists have solved a key parasitic puzzle, revealing the unique and complex structures toxoplasmosis and malaria parasites make in order to survive in different hosts.

The new study, led by the University of Glasgow in collaboration with the University of Stockholm, and published in Nature Communications, details how certain parasites can create unique cellular structures to control how they create energy and thus survive in different hosts.

Malaria and toxoplasmosis, both potentially deadly diseases, are caused by similar parasites that organise themselves to exploit their host’s energy resources in order to infect and transmit to new hosts. However, until now, scientists did not fully understand the detailed mechanisms behind this process. In this new research, researchers have solved a parasitic puzzle at the heart of how these deadly pathogens are able to survive in different hosts in order for them to transmit onwards.

Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by the Toxoplasma parasite, and thought to be carried by an estimate 33% of the global population in its dormant state. However, in those with weakened immune systems this parasite can ‘wake up’ and cause complications such as stroke and brain damage. Malaria, a mosquito-borne infectious disease, currently affects over 200 million people, and kills nearly half a million people – mostly children – every year.

In order to survive, these parasites rely on resources available in their host – for toxoplasmosis it is animals and humans, while for malaria this also includes insects. This means that in order to survive, to infect the host and to transmit between hosts, these parasites have to be flexible in how they create energy based on what is available to them.  

The paper, ‘ATP synthase hexamer assemblies shape cristae of Toxoplasma mitochondria’, is published in Nature Communications, and can be accessed here.

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