A potpourri of parasites!

October 22nd 2018

Science can sometimes offer striking visuals that captivate our imaginations, as evidenced by this photograph taken by Daniel Monteyne and David Pérez-Morga, researchers at the Molecular Parasitology Laboratory (IBMM) and the Centre for Microscopy and Molecular Imaging (CMMI), at the Biopark. The photo was taken using a scanning electron microscope (the ESEM Quanta 200 F) available at the CMMI, and has won the monthly Thermo Fisher Microscopy image contest in July: this is no small feat in the world of electron microscopy!

Trypanosomes—in blue on the picture—are parasites that are responsible for sleeping sickness, which is endemic to Central and Western Africa. They measure between 15 and 20 micrometres in length, and can be seen here in the middle of a blood vessel—in green—among red cells about a third of their size. When an infection is at its most severe, there can be up to a million trypanosomes per millilitre of blood!

David Pérez-Morga and his colleagues are studying how the parasite resists and interacts with the immune system and with molecules that can kill it. One of the team's discoveries is the relationship between resistance to African trypanosomes and chronic kidney diseases. Such diseases are often found in Western African populations that can resist trypanosomes. This means that trypanosomes have impacted human evolution in this region of the globe: quite an accomplishment, for such a tiny creature!