Australian scientists have for the first time caught malaria parasites in the act of invading red blood cells by using new image and cell technologies.
The researchers, from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne, Australia, and the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS), achieved this long-held aim using a combination of electron, light and super resolution microscopy.
The detailed look at what occurs as the parasite burrows through the walls of red blood cells provides new insights into the molecular and cellular events that drive cell invasion and may pave the way for developing new treatments for malaria.
Institute researchers Dr Jake Baum, Mr David Riglar, Dr Dave Richard and colleagues from the institute's Infection and Immunity division led the research with colleagues from the i3 institute at UTS.
Dr Baum said the real breakthrough for the research team had been the ability to capture high-resolution images of the parasite at each and every stage of invasion, and to do so reliably and repeatedly.
"It is the first time we've been able to actually visualise this process in all its molecular glory, combining new advances developed at the institute for isolating viable parasites with innovative imaging technologies," Dr Baum said.
"Super resolution microscopy has opened up a new realm of understanding into how malaria parasites actually invade the human red blood cell. Whilst we have observed this miniature parasite drive its way into the cell before, the beauty of the new imaging technology is that it provides a quantum leap in the amount of detail we can see, revealing key molecular and cellular events required for each stage of the invasion process."
The imaging technology, called OMX 3D SIM super resolution microscopy, is a powerful new 3D tool that captures cellular processes unfolding at nanometer scales.
The findings are published in today's issue of the journal Cell Host and Microbe.