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J Mol Biol. 2002 May 31;319(2):257-74.

Progress with parasite plastids.

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  • 1National Institute for Medical Research, Mill Hill, London NW7 1AA, UK.


This review offers a snapshot of our current understanding of the origin, biology, and metabolic significance of the non-photosynthetic plastid organelle found in apicomplexan parasites. These protists are of considerable medical and veterinary importance world-wide, Plasmodium spp., the causative agent of malaria being foremost in terms of human disease. It has been estimated that approximately 8% of the genes currently recognized by the malarial genome sequencing project (now nearing completion) are of bacterial/plastid origin. The bipartite presequences directing the products of these genes back to the plastid have provided fresh evidence that secondary endosymbiosis accounts for this organelle's presence in these parasites. Mounting phylogenetic evidence has strengthened the likelihood that the plastid originated from a red algal cell. Most importantly, we now have a broad understanding of several bacterial metabolic systems confined within the boundaries of the parasite plastid. The primary ones are type II fatty acid biosynthesis and isoprenoid biosynthesis. Some aspects of heme biosynthesis also might take place there. Retention of the plastid's relict genome and its still ill-defined capacity to participate in protein synthesis might be linked to an important house-keeping process, i.e. guarding the type II fatty acid biosynthetic pathway from oxidative damage. Fascinating observations have shown the parasite plastid does not divide by constriction as in typical plants, and that plastid-less parasites fail to thrive after invading a new cell. The modes of plastid DNA replication within the phylum also have provided surprises. Besides indicating the potential of the parasite plastid for therapeutic intervention, this review exposes many gaps remaining in our knowledge of this intriguing organelle. The rapid progress being made shows no sign of slackening.

Copyright 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd.

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