Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Lifting the veil

These unassuming little brown balls, which are 5–7 micrometres in diameter, are cells of the marine alga newly described by Moore et al. In providing a connection between the apicomplexan parasites and their algal ancestors, the organism becomes a prime candidate for the complete genome analysis that should help lift more of the veil from ancient evolution.

Nature, 2008: Evolutionary biology: Bridge over troublesome plastids
Identification of a direct link between apicomplexan parasites and their algal ancestors is a development full of promise. It illuminates a dark corner in the evolution of photosynthesis, and further insights are to come.

There's also a 2004 Nature Review article on the prospect of malarial drugs targeting the apicoplast: Tropical infectious diseases: Metabolic maps and functions of the Plasmodium falciparum apicoplast.
Discovery of a relict chloroplast (the apicoplast) in malarial parasites presented new opportunities for drug development. The apicoplast – although no longer photosynthetic – is essential to parasites. Combining bioinformatics approaches with experimental validation in the laboratory, we have identified more than 500 proteins predicted to function in the apicoplast. By comparison with plant chloroplasts, we have reconstructed several anabolic pathways for the parasite plastid that are fundamentally different to the analogous pathways in the human host and are potentially good targets for drug development. Products of these pathways seem to be exported from the apicoplast and might be involved in host-cell invasion.

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