3D Animated Life Cycle of Malaria

Every science student will encounter materials of the biomedical visual communication field throughout their education and are important tools in conveying complex scientific concepts. I had the opportunity to meet biomedical animator Drew Berry and decided to feature him and his work for this post.

Who is Drew Berry?


– This guy

Drew Berry s a biomedical animator at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, Australia and is one of the world’s foremost animators working in biomedical visualisation.

His scientifically accurate and aesthetically rich visualisations are enlightening cellular and molecular processes for a wide range of audiences. The animations have been shown in exhibitions, multimedia programs and television shows, and have received international recognition including an Emmy (2005) and a BAFTA Award (2004).

In these animations Berry synthesizes data across a variety of fields and presents them in engaging animations to enhance understanding of biological systems.

Berry created a two-part animation of the malaria life cycle that illustrates the pathogen’s development in the mosquito host and its invasion of human cells. These two examples will be used here with an overview of malaria before viewing.

What is Malaria?


3D visualisation of mosquito feeding on human blood and injecting saliva infected with malaria parasites into bloodstream.

Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease of humans and other animals caused by protists (a type of microorganism) of the genus Plasmodium. Malaria causes symptoms that typically include fever and headache, which in severe cases can progress to coma or death.

The World Health Organization has estimated that in 2010, there were 219 million documented cases of malaria. That year, between 660,000 and 1.2 million people died from the disease, many of who were children in Africa.

Life Cycle of Malaria


3D Visualisation of sporocite form of malaria parasite infecting a human red blood cell

The life cycle involves two different hosts: in most cases a female mosquito (the primary host) transmits a motile infective form called the sporozoite to a vertebrate host such as a human (the secondary host) acting as a transmission vector. A sporozoite travels through the blood vessels to liver cells where it undergoes asexual reproduction transforming and producing thousands of merozoites.

These infect new red blood cells transforming yet again into trophozoites, which eat the contents of the red blood cells and initiate a series of synchronous asexual multiplication cycles every 48 to 72 hours. This induces lysis of the red blood cell or bursting causing the release of toxins and mezoites into the bloodstream hence the cycles of fever and chills, the infective cycle then beginning anew.


3D Visualisation of cell lysis/bursting of infected red blood cell releasing malaria parasite form of mezoites.

After several rounds of replication merozoites develop into immature gametes, or gametocytes and when a fertilised mosquito bites an infected person, gametocytes are taken up with the blood and mature in the mosquito gut. Here they develop into sperm and eggs then fusing to form zygotes that undergo meiosis to eventually develop into new haploid sporozoites. They migrate to the insect’s salivary glands, ready to infect a new vertebrate host. The sporozoites are injected into the skin alongside saliva when the mosquito takes a subsequent blood meal.

The parasites multiply in the vertebrate as before and are then available to back- infect the next generation of mosquitos. By exploiting the relationship between mosquitos and vertebrates, malaria ensure their own reproduction and distribution. They also reduce the defence strategies available to hosts since only part of the life cycle occurs in each host. Only female mosquitoes feed on blood; and transmit the disease.

Head starting to spin? This is where Drew Berry and Biomedical Visualisation comes in to help illustrate the big picture.

3D Animated Life Cycle of Malaria- Drew Berry


Cowman AF, Berry D, Baum J (2012). “The cellular and molecular basis for malaria parasite invasion of the human red blood cell”. Journal of Cell Biology Issue 198, Vol 6, pp 961–71.

Knox. B. Ladiges P. Evans B, Saint, R. (2006) “Biology: An Australian Focus 3rd Edition” pp 846-847. McGraw Hill Australia NSW.

Nayyar GML, Breman JG, Newton PN, Herrington J (2012). “Poor-quality antimalarial drugs in southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa”. Lancet Infectious Diseases Vol 12  Issue 6 pp 488–96.

Schlagenhauf-Lawlor (2008) Traveller’s Malaria, pp. 70–1.

The Walter Eliza Hall IInstitute of Medical Research (2012) accessed 15.5.13


The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation (2010) accessed 15. 5.13


One thought on “3D Animated Life Cycle of Malaria

  1. Excellent work!

    David Jensen, M(ASCP)CM
    Public Health Microbiology Supervisor II
    Laboratory – Section Chief – Clinical, Food & Environmental Bacteriology & Parasitology
    Los Angeles County Department of Public Health

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