Tag Archives: cause of diarrhea

Friday Fellow: Common giardia

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Parasites are always a group eager to be featured here, and human parasites have a special place in our hearts… sometimes literally. Today’s species, however, has a special place in our small intestine.

Called Giardia lamblia, sometimes also identified under the outdated synonyms Giardia duodenalis or Giardia intestinalis, our species has not a common name, but as it is the most popular and widespread species of the genus Giardia, I decided to call it simply the common giardia.

The common giardia is a flagellated unicellular organism that affects not only humans but several other mammal species. In the wild, the common giardia exists in the form of an inert cyst that can survive for prolonged periods and under different environmental conditions.


A cyst of Giardia lamblia. Credits to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

When the cysts are ingested by humans or other mammals, they develop into the active stage, called trophozoite, once they reach the small intestine. The trophozoite is a flagellated cell with two well-developed nuclei that make it look like a smiling face. In this stage, the common giardia reproduced by simple binary fission. For a long time, it was thought that sexual reproduction did not occur at all in this species, but some recent evidence indicate that recombination may occur, although it is not very clear yet how it happens.


Two trophozoites of the common giardia under the microscope. Credits to Josef Reischig.*

The ventral surface of the trophozoite is concave, forming an adhesive disk that attaches the cell to the wall of the intestine, preventing it to be transported downward the intestinal tract. Although not invading the intestinal cells, the infection of Giardia lamblia usually causes diarrhea and malabsorption. When exposed to biliar secretions, the common giardia may develop into a cyst and is thus eliminated with the feces, allowing the cycle to begin again.

Humans are very often contaminated by several means, such as by ingesting contaminated water, which may include both urban untreated water or clear water in the wild where other mammals may have defecated. It is, therefore, a common infection among hikers, people living under poor sanitary conditions and so on.

The common giardia has some peculiarities, such as the lack of mitochondria, which for some time led to the assumptions that they may belong to a very primitive group of Eukaryotes. Recently, however, a vestigial organelle that likely derived from mitochondria, named mitosome, has been found in this species, suggesting that this feature is a secondary loss caused by its parasitic life in an anoxic environment.

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Adam, R. D. (2001) Biology of Giardia lambliaClinical Microbiology Reviews 14(3): 447–475.

Wikipedia. Giardia lamblia. Available at < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giardia_lamblia >. Access on 28 June 2018.

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Filed under Parasites, protists