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Researchers at the University of Georgia Discover Protein is Crucial to Reproduction of Parasites Involved in Disease
Date:2/12/2009

nclick="linkClick( this.href );" target="_blank" title="UGA's Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases">UGA's Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. Other authors of the paper include Boris Striepen of the CTEGD and the department of cellular biology at UGA; Sarah Rieff of the department of cellular biology; Cveta Tomova and Bruno Humbel of Utrecht University in the Netherlands; and Markus Meissner of the Heidelberg University School of Medicine in Germany.

Toxoplasma belongs to a group of parasites that contain a chloroplast-like organelle, the apicoplast. Chloroplasts are the home of photosynthesis in plants and algae and are responsible for the green color of leaves. Apicoplasts have long puzzled scientists. What does a parasite living in the brain or blood of humans have to do with a structure associated with harvesting sunlight? It turns out that the chloroplasts have additional functions, and it is these functions that the parasites require.

Since humans do not have chloroplasts, the parasite's dependence on this organelle is viewed by reseachers as an Achilles heel.

Scientists are interested in the group to which Toxoplasma belongs, the Apicomplexa, because it includes such parasites as Plasmodium, which causes malaria.   

"The apicoplast is essential for parasitic growth and must correctly divide for the organism to stay alive," said Striepen, also a senior author on the study at UGA. "Understanding more of how it works i
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