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

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Washington, June 2 (ANI): Inconspicuous "little brown balls" in the ocean have linked malaria and the algae responsible for toxic red tides to a common ancestor, according to a study by University of British Columbia researchers.

In the study, UBC Botany Prof. Patrick Keeling has described 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. 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," said Keeling.

Chromera is found as a symbiont inside corals.

Although it has a compartment - called a plastid - that carries out photosynthesis like other algae and plants, Chromera is closely related to apicomplexan parasites - including malaria.

The discovery raised the possibility that Chromera may be a "missing link" between the two.

Now Keeling and colleagues have 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. The tool used by dinoflagellates and Chromera to do good - symbiosis with corals - at some point became an infection mechanism for apicomplexans like malaria to infect healthy cells," said Keeling.

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

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition. (ANI)

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