A team of scientists has discovered the common ancestor of two creatures that cause the world a considerable amount of trouble and suffering, the malaria parasite and the organism that causes red tides. The missing link, the thing that connected the two, turned out to be little brown balls called Chromera.
The team, consisting of scientists from the University of British Columbia in Canada and the University of South Bohemia, in the Czech Republic, published their findings in the online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), an American publication.
Chromera is a symbiont found inside corals. While it has a compartment (called a plastid) used to perform photosynthesis like the dinoflalgellate algae that causes red tide (as well as photosynthesis in plants), Chromera is closely related to apicomplexan parasites, which include malaria. This discovery, first published in the journal Nature in 2008, gave researchers the idea that the algae and the parasites might be related and that the Chromera was the connection.
The scientists sequenced the genome of Chromera and were able to show for the first time, how the two are connected evolutionarily.
In recent interviews, the scientists said that they hope the knowledge gained by their research will not only advance basic scientific knowledge, but will also open the way for treatments for diseases such as malaria.
The original PNAS article is available here.