Malaria disease is caused by parasites from the genus Plasmodium, an ancient group of obligate intracellular protozoan pathogens from the Phylum Apicomplexa. Five species of Plasmodium parasite cause malaria (Plasmodium falciparum, vivax, ovale, malariae and knowlesi) and there is growing awareness of the importance of each to global health. The majority of mortality and morbidity attributed to malaria is caused by P. falciparum; however, P. vivax is also increasingly recognised as a major contributor to the global burden of disease. Current estimates for death and morbidity associated with malaria disease vary dramatically, however, it is clear that many hundreds of thousand, up to half a million, children die each year from the disease and up to 10% of the world are infected each year (WHO, World Malaria Report).
The Plasmodium parasite itself undergoes dramatic changes throughout its two-host lifecycle, cycling between mosquito and mammalian hosts. Each stage is exquisitely attuned to its environmental niche and the demands of each tissue in the infectious cycle.
Thus, despite being a single celled organism, the parasite is capable of a remarkable plasticity in form, achieves many wonders of biology and, of keen interest to our lab, remains constantly on the move.
Plasmodium lifecycle highlighting parasite motile forms.