German researchers have worked out how the malaria parasite is able to burrow through the skin and into our body.
The study of sporozoites — the highly mobile stages of the malaria parasite — is published in the January issue of the journal Cell Host & Microbe.
"We show that sporozoite motility is characterized by a continuous sequence of stick-and-slip phases," write Sylvia Muenter of the Heidelberg University and colleagues.
When a malaria-carrying mosquito bites a human, single-celled "worm-like" sporozoites burrow through the skin and into the body.
They breed in liver cells and are then released into the bloodstream, where they infect red blood cells and cause the symptoms of malaria.
But how exactly do these parasites move around mosquitoes and humans?