Niall Geoghegan, Robyn McConville, Justin Boddey
Created | 2022

Malaria remains a huge global health burden, accounting for an estimated 627,000 deaths yearly. Only sexual stage Plasmodium falciparum parasites (gametocytes) can transmit the disease from humans back to mosquitoes.

Just 15 minutes is required for this process to occur inside the mosquito gut. WEHI researchers were able to capture this dynamic transmission in 4D-imaging for the first time, using the institute’s world-class lattice light-sheet microscope.

Male parasites are captured morphing from a banana shape into a round shape, rapidly dividing their genome and undertaking cell division to form eight flagellated reproductive cells (gametes) that burst out of the human red cell in search of an activated female for fertilisation. Female parasites are seen rounding up and bursting from their host red blood cells.

All stages of the parasite’s life cycle are potential therapeutic targets. Understanding human-to-mosquito transmission will help researchers block this type of spread and bolster malaria eradication efforts.