Scientists claim to have solved a 130-year-old mystery by revealing that the malaria parasite adopts a banana shape before sexual reproduction to sneak into spleen, a finding which may pave the way for vaccines against the disease which kills 600,000 people each year globally.

Banana shape

A team at the University of Melbourne says its finding about how the malaria parasite (Plasmodium falciparum) changes into a banana shape before sexual reproduction may explain how the parasite evades the human immune system, thus providing a potential target for vaccine or drug development.

Dr Matthew Dixon, who led the team, said the research finally cracked the 130-year-old puzzle, revealing how the most deadly of human malaria parasites, Plasmodium falciparum, performs its shape-shifting.

“In 1880, the banana or crescent shape of the malaria parasite was first seen in the blood of a patient.

Using a 3D microscope technique, we reveal that malaria uses a scaffold of special proteins to form a banana shape before sexual reproduction,” Dr Dixon said in a release by the university.

Targeting proteins

“As the malaria parasite can only reproduce in its ‘banana form', if we can target these scaffold proteins in a vaccine or drug, we may be able to stop it reproducing and prevent malaria transmission entirely,” he added.

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