Tag Archives: human parasites

Friday Fellow: Toxo

by Piter Kehoma Boll

If I had to bet on a parasite that you who are reading this probably have in your body, I’d go for today’s fellow, the protist Toxoplasma gondii, sometimes simply called toxo.

Found worldwide, the toxo is one of the most common parasites in humans, with estimations that about half of the world’s population is infected. Fortunately, this creature usually occurs in a latent form and does not offer great risks, but eventually it may develop into a more serious condition called toxoplasmosis, especially in people with weakened immunity.

But let’s take a closer look at this tiny fellow.

Toxoplasma_gondii_oocyst

Oocysts of Toxoplasma gondii. This is the form found in the environment and that can start an infection in your body.

The toxo is a protist belonging to the phylum Apicomplexa, a group of parasitic alveolates that also includes the agent that causes malaria. Although traditionally considered a protozoan, the apicomplexans are closely related to dinoflagellates (which are generally considered as a group of algae). They have a unique organelle called apicoplast, which they use to penetrate a host cell. The apicoplast is derived from a plastid (such as the chloropast), so in a certain way we can say that the apicomplexans are algae that evolved into intracellular parasites!

Toxoplasma_gondii_tachy

Tachyzoites of Toxoplasma gondii stained with Giesma from the peritoneal fluid of a mouse.

The life cycle of the toxo is kind of complex. Let’s start with the inactive form called oocyst, which may be found in the environment. If a warm-blooded animal ingests an oocyst, it will “burst” inside the gut of the animal and release several “quick-moving” forms called tachyzoites. The tachyzoites invade almost any cell of the body and multiply asexually inside it until the cell dies and release them, allowing them to infect more and more cells. When invading the brain, liver and muscles, the tachyzoites usually differentiate into cysts that become inactive. In this stage, the only thing that the toxo wants is that a cat (any species of the family Felidae) eats the host. It may even change the host’s behavior in order to make it bolder and more easily accessible to predators.

Toxoplasma_gondii_cyst

A cyst of Toxoplasma gondii that forms in the muscles, brain and liver of any warm-blooded anymal. All the cyst wants is to be eaten by a cat!

Now let’s assume that a cat ate the host (that was likely a bird or mouse). Inside the cat’s gut, the cyst burst and releases several “slow-moving” forms called bradyzoites. This form invades the epithelial cells of the cat’s intestine and multiply asexually inside them. Eventually, the bradyzoites differentiate into either tachyzoites or gametocytes (sperm- and egg-like cells). When two gametocytes fuse, they form a zygote that matures into an oocyst and is released into the environment, restarting the cycle.

Toxoplasma_life_cycle

The complex life cycle of Toxoplasma gondii. Credits to Mariana Ruiz Villarreal.

As always, the lifecycle of parasites is a wonderful adventure!

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ResearchBlogging.orgReferences:

Tenter, A., Heckeroth, A., & Weiss, L. (2000). Toxoplasma gondii: from animals to humans International Journal for Parasitology, 30 (12-13), 1217-1258 DOI: 10.1016/S0020-7519(00)00124-7

Wikipedia. Toxoplasma gondii. Available at <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toxoplasma_gondii&gt;. Access on March 6, 2017.

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Filed under Disease, Friday Fellow, protists

Friday Fellow: B. coli

by Piter Kehoma Boll

It’s time to give more space for parasites, including human parasites! So today our fellow comes right from the stool of many mammals, including humans. Its name is Balantidium coli, or B. coli for short.

B. coli is a ciliate, i.e., a member of the phylum Ciliophora, a group of protists that have their cells covered by cilia, which are nothing more than very short and numerous flagella. Most ciliates are free-living organisms, and in fact B. coli is the only ciliate known to be harmful to humans, but not only to humans. Many other mammals are also known to host this fellow, especially pigs.

balantidium_coli

The red elongate macronucleus of B. coli makes it look like a bad guy, don’t you think? Photo extracted from http://www.southampton.ac.uk/~ceb/Diagnosis/Vol2.htm

The typicall habitat of B. coli is the large intestine of mammals. The protist lives there in an active phase called trophozoite (seen in the image above) and feeds on the natural bacteria that live in the gut. When facing dehydration, which happens in the final portion of the intestine or after the organism is released with the feces, B. coli changes to an inactive phase called cyst, which is smaller than the trophozoite and covered by a thick wall. The cysts released in the environment may be ingested by a new host and reach their intestine, where they will return to the trophozoite form.

balantidium_coli2

A cyst of B.coli. Photo extracted from http://www.southampton.ac.uk/~ceb/Diagnosis/Vol2.htm

Symptoms of infection by B. coli, also known as balantidiasis, include explosive diarrhea every 20 minutes and, in acute infections, it may cause perforation of the colon and become a life-threatening condition.

Fortunately, infection in humans is not that common. The most affected country nowadays are the Philippines, but you may get infected anywhere. The best way to reduce the infection risks is by having good sanitary conditions and personal hygiene. However, as pigs are the most common vectors of the disease, it will likely continue to exist as long as humans raise pigs.

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ResearchBlogging.orgReferences:

Schuster, F., & Ramirez-Avila, L. (2008). Current World Status of Balantidium coli Clinical Microbiology Reviews, 21 (4), 626-638 DOI: 10.1128/CMR.00021-08

Wikipedia. Balantidium coli. Available at <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balantidium_coli&gt;. Access on February 23, 2017.

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Filed under Friday Fellow, Parasites, protists