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Gilliam Fellow Finds a New Twist on How Some Parasites Move

In 1843, the Hungarian scientist David Gruby—considered the founder of medical microbiology—was studying a microscopic parasite in frog blood. The parasite seemed to propel itself forward like a corkscrew, so he named the creature Trypanosoma sanguinis, after the Greek word “trypanon,” or augur. The name stuck, and the term Trypanosome is now used to describe a genus of unicellular parasites that move in a similar way.

But new research is challenging Gruby’s description of the parasite’s movement. José A. Rodriguez, an HHMI-funded doctoral student at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a multidisciplinary team of colleagues have found that the parasite Trypanasoma brucei, which causes African sleeping sickness, doesn’t move in just one direction like a corkscrew. Instead, it rocks left then right and back again, without changing the direction it is trying to go.

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