Plasmodium falciparum is the parasite responsible for malaria. It continues to cause about 1 million deaths per year, worldwide. This video is a scientific first. The moment when a malaria parasite invades a human red blood cell has never been captured on video, and in high-resolution, no less.
Transmission electron microscopy and 3D immuno-fluoresence microscopy were used to record still images for this 40-second video clip. Those are impressive technologies, but are not responsible for the break through. Dr. Jack Baum and colleagues from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, Australia are credited with the clever idea:
To boost the chances of catching Plasmodium parasites in the act of attacking a red blood cell the team controlled the process using two drugs. The first – heparin – prevents parasites entering a new red blood cell, while the second – E64 – prevents their exit.
Careful timing of the events assured plenty of invasion events for capture on video.
This video is not merely showmanship. It shows that the red blood cell (erythrocyte) invasion by Plasmodium is not a well-ordered event as thought. The video demonstrates a way to stop Plasmodium parasites from entering red blood cells, and arresting the disease process once contracted.
More details may be found in the New Scientist and the journal where the discovery was published: Cell Host & Microbe, Volume 9, Issue 1, 9-20, 20 January 2011, DOI: 10.1016/j.chom.2010.12.003. The abstract and graphical images may be viewed free, without a subscription.