Malaria is one of the most important infectious diseases under study today. It has been with us since early medical history, and still persists as a major global threat.
The disease is caused by a parasite – a multicellular microorganism. Not just a simple bacteria, the malaria plasmodium is a complex critter that still remains quite mysterious. It is very hard to work with in the laboratory: it doesn’t culture well and the risks involved are immense.
The discovery of a non-infectious relative (albeit, rather distant) by Australian researchers is exciting news for many.
Paydirt hasn’t quite been hit as far as medical research. However the fun isn’t just for medicos, but the evolutionary biologists as well.
Chromera velia is clearly related to Plasmodium parasites, but rather than being a blood-borne obligate parasite of mammals and insects that rarely sees light of day, it is a plankton-like photosynthesising obligate symbiont of corals.
These long-lost cousins are so very different, it could almost make the ghost script of the next Wil Farrell comedy (or not, besides its been done before).
Can they really be from the same origin?
The evidence is convincing.
Image: Copyright University of Sydney. Use only for non-commercial and educational purposes with attribution.