Malaria, a disease caused by protozoan parasites, is one of the most dangerous infectious diseases, claiming millions of lives and infecting hundreds of millions of people annually. Malaria parasites contain an essential organelle called the apicoplast that is thought to have arisen through endosymbiosis of an algal cell which had previously incorporated a cyanobacterium. Due to its prokaryotic origin, the apicoplast contains a range of metabolic pathways that differ significantly from those of the human host. We are investigating biochemical pathways found in the apicoplast, particularly those required for the biosynthesis and modification of fatty acids. This metabolism should require several enzyme cofactors such as pantothenate, lipoic acid, biotin and iron-sulfur clusters. We are interested in these cofactors, how they are acquired, how they are used, and whether they are essential for the growth of blood stage or liver stage malaria parasites. We approach these questions with a combination of cell biology, genetic, biophysical and biochemical techniques.
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