This replication fiber appears to have evolved from the flagellum that ancient algae used to swim.
"This was a surprising finding," said Boris Striepen, a Georgia Research Alliance Distinguished Investigator in UGA's Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases. "These parasites no longer use flagella to swim, but they have apparently repurposed this machinery to now organize the assembly of an invasive cell."
During evolution, flagella have been reengineered to serve numerous different functions in animals, including the sensors that allow us to see and smell. This study suggests that in these parasites structures used to invade host cells may be also derived from flagella.
Current treatments for diseases like malaria are threatened by the parasite becoming resistant to the drugs, so the need for new therapies is always pressing.
This algae-based connective fiber may serve as a promising target for anti-parasitic drug development, said Striepen, who is also a cellular biologist in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. He cautions, however, that more work must be done to learn how to manipulate or destroy the fiber in parasites that have infected humans or animals.
But both Striepen and Francia argue that scientists do well to pay close attention to the evolutionary history of the organisms they study.
"It is extremely important to understand the evolution of different organisms, but especially the evolution of pathogens," Striepen said. "The analysis of their evolution produces important opportunities to develop treatments, but it also helps us understand the basic structure of the pathogens that we must fight."
|Contact: Boris Striepen|
University of Georgia