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Mining the Plasmodium genome database to define organellar function: what does the apicoplast do?


Apicomplexan species constitute a diverse group of parasitic protozoa, which are responsible for a wide range of diseases in many organisms. Despite differences in the diseases they cause, these parasites share an underlying biology, from the genetic controls used to differentiate through the complex parasite life cycle, to the basic biochemical pathways employed for intracellular survival, to the distinctive cell biology necessary for host cell attachment and invasion. Different parasites lend themselves to the study of different aspects of parasite biology: Eimeria for biochemical studies, Toxoplasma for molecular genetic and cell biological investigation, etc. The Plasmodium falciparum Genome Project contributes the first large–scale genomic sequence for an apicomplexan parasite. The Plasmodium Genome Database ( has been designed to permit individual investigators to ask their own questions, even prior to formal release of the reference P. falciparum genome sequence. As a case in point, PlasmoDB has been exploited to identify metabolic pathways associated with the apicomplexan plastid, or ‘apicoplast’ – an essential organelle derived by secondary endosymbiosis of an alga, and retention of the algal plastid.

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