Scientists from Heidelberg University have found the manner in which the malaria parasite gains entry into the body, which is by making burrows through the skin.
They focussed their study on sporozoites - the highly mobile stages of the malaria parasite - and found that they follow a stick-and-slip method.
Advertisement"We show that sporozoite motility is characterised by a continuous sequence of stick-and-slip phases," ABC Science quoted the researchers as saying.
When a malaria-carrying mosquito bites a human, single-celled 'worm-like' sporozoites burrow through the skin and into the body.
However, the mechanism with which these sporozoites spread into the body was unclear.
The research team led by Dr Silvia Manduumlnter showed that sporozoites travelled using sticky patches on their outside connected to an internal 'motor' of actin and myosin.
Although it was believed that the motor pulled the sticky proteins from one end of the cell to the other, thereby enabling it to move forward smoothly, the study showed that sporozoites moved in a more complicated way.
They found that the cells showed bursts of fast and slow movement.
"The sporozoites had two gears - like a slow gear and a fast gear," Dr Paul Gilson, Australian malaria expert said in an accompanying commentary.
The researchers used special microscopy technique to identify exactly when the cells were attaching to a surface.
According to them, the cell has a very complex pattern of attachment points underneath.
Gilson said the small sticky patches form on the front and rear and the actin-myosin motor pushes the cell forward very slowly.
Then a large sticky patch forms in the middle of the cell, encouraging to move forward quickly.
However, the slow-moving sticky patches at either end hold the cell back and tension builds up until the back and front patches break.
"The cell then shoots forward using the middle sticky patch," Gilson added.
The front and rear patches reform, causing the middle sticky patch to break and the whole process repeats itself.
The researchers said that understanding the basic biology of how the parasites move helps would help in development of anti-malarial drugs.