'Little brown balls' tie malaria and algae to common ancestor

Jun 01, 2010
Under the microscope, Chromera looks like inconspicuous "little brown balls." Credit: Patrick Keeling

Inconspicuous "little brown balls" in the ocean have helped settle a long-standing debate about the origin of malaria and the algae responsible for toxic red tides, according to a new study by University of British Columbia researchers.

In an article published this week in the Early Edition, UBC Botany Prof. Patrick Keeling describes the genome of Chromera and its role in definitively linking the evolutionary histories of malaria and dinoflalgellate algae.

"Under the microscope, Chromera looks like boring little brown balls," says Keeling. "In fact, the ocean is full of little brown and green balls and they're often overlooked in favour of more glamorous organisms, but this one has proved to be more interesting than its flashier cousins."

First described in the journal Nature in 2008, Chromera is found as a symbiont inside corals. Although it has a compartment - called a plastid - that carries out like other algae and plants, Chromera is closely related to apicomplexan parasites - including malaria. This discovery raised the possibility that Chromera may be a "missing link" between the two.

Now Keeling, along with PhD candidate Jan Janouskovec, postdoctoral fellow Ales Horak and collaborators from the Czech Republic, has sequenced the plastid genome of Chromera and found features that were passed down to both apicomplexan and dinoflagellate plastids, linking the two lineages.

"These tiny organisms have a huge impact on humanity in very different ways," says Keeling. "The tool used by dinoflagellates and Chromera to do good - symbiosis with corals - at some point became an infection mechanism for apicomplexans like to infect healthy cells.

"Resolving their not only settles a long-standing scientific debate but could ultimately provide crucial information for tackling diseases and environmental concerns."

Explore further: Genomes of malaria-carrying mosquitoes sequenced

Related Stories

Solar-powered sea-slugs live like plants, prof says

Nov 25, 2008

The lowly sea slug, "Elysia chlorotica," may not seem like the most exciting of creatures, but don't be fooled: it behaves like a plant and is solar-powered, says a Texas A&M University biologist who has been studying these ...

Recommended for you

Genomes of malaria-carrying mosquitoes sequenced

3 hours ago

Nora Besansky, O'Hara Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Notre Dame and a member of the University's Eck Institute for Global Health, has led an international team of scientists in sequencing ...

How calcium regulates mitochondrial carrier proteins

Nov 26, 2014

Mitochondrial carriers are a family of proteins that play the key role of transporting a chemically diverse range of molecules across the inner mitochondrial membrane. Mitochondrial aspartate/glutamate carriers are part of ...

Team conducts unprecedented analysis of microbial ecosystem

Nov 26, 2014

An international team of scientists from the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) and The Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB) have completed a first-of-its-kind microbial analysis of a biological ...

Students create microbe to weaken superbug

Nov 25, 2014

A team of undergraduate students from the University of Waterloo have designed a synthetic organism that may one day help doctors treat MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant superbug.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

hazy_jane
not rated yet Jun 01, 2010
apicomplexans like malaria


They make it sound like malaria is not the disease (that is being caused) but the actual apicomplexan, surely that is Plasmodium...

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.