Real-life horror: First video reveals how malaria parasite invades and destroys human blood cellsBy Claire Bates
Last updated at 5:11 PM on 21st January 2011
A malaria parasite has been caught on camera for the first time breaking and entering human red bloods cell before savagely destroying them from the inside.
The Plasmodium parasite transmits malaria via the bite of infected mosquitoes. The infectious disease kills one million people every year and infects 400million.
The technology provides images at a much smaller scale than normal light microscopes and so could capture the parasite, which is just one millionth of a metre across.
Dr Jake Baum, of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne, said: 'The real breakthrough of super resolution microscopy is that it… basically allows you to build a three-dimensional image of cellular processes at very high resolution.
'It's like we've taken CCTV snapshots of thousands and thousands of bank-robberies.'
The results, which are published today in the journal Cell Host & Microbe, could provide new insights into the molecular and cellular events that drive cell invasion.
'It is the first time we've been able to actually visualise this process in all its molecular glory,' said Dr Baum.
Though scientists have observed the parasite driving its way into cells before, the new technology provides a big leap in the amount of detail they can see.
'One of the most thrilling things we saw was the parasite inserting a ring-shaped protein into the cell wall to make a window through which it climbs.
'You can actually see the parasite climbing through,' Dr Baum said.
The footage also revealed that once the parasite had attached to the red blood cell and formed a tight bond with the cell, a master switch for invasion was initiated and invasion continued unabated without any further checkpoints.
Dr Baum said he had been working towards tracking the parasite for seven years. He hopes the new knowledge will allow scientists new opportunities to 'throw a spanner in the parasite's works'.
He said: 'If, for example, you wanted to test a particular drug or vaccine, or investigate how a particular human antibody works to protect you from malaria, this imaging approach now gives us a window to see the actual effects that each reagent or antibody has on the precise steps of invasion.'