This troublesome creature is Trypanosoma brucei – a tiny single-celled parasite. Transmitted by tsetse flies in sub-Saharan Africa, trypanosomes cause an unpleasant disease called sleeping sickness (African trypanosomiasis), which can be fatal if left untreated. The long pink string in this false-coloured image highlights the organism’s long, whip-like tail or flagellum. This has three uses: enabling the bug to move around; sensing the environment around it; and recognising and attaching to host cells so it can infect them. It also helps to maintain the shape of the parasite’s body, and plays a role in helping it multiply inside its host. Because the flagellum is so important to a trypanosome’s lifestyle and infectious ability, researchers are now working out ways to break the molecular connections that keep it attached to the parasite cell, with the hope of finding more effective ways to prevent or treat sleeping sickness in the future.
Written by Kat Arney
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