Surprisingly, some of the world's most dangerous parasites appear to have had a benign photosynthetic past in the ocean. The phylum Apicomplexa includes the causative agents of malaria and a number of additional human and animal diseases. These diseases threaten the life and health of hundreds of millions each year and pose a tremendous challenge to public health. Recent findings suggest that Apicomplexa share their ancestry with diatoms and kelps, and that a key event in their evolution was the acquisition of a red algal endosymbiont. A remnant of this endosymbiont is still present today, albeit reduced to a small chloroplast-like organelle, the apicoplast. In the present chapter, I introduce the remarkably complex biology of this organelle. The apicoplast is bounded by four membranes, and these membranes trace their ancestry to three different organisms. Intriguingly, this divergent ancestry is still reflected in their molecular makeup and function. We also pursue the raison d'être of the apicoplast. Why did Apicomplexa retain a chloroplast when they abandoned photosynthesis for a life as obligate parasites? The answer to this question appears to lie in the profound metabolic dependence of the parasite on its endosymbiont. This dependence may prove to be a liability to the parasite. As humans lack chloroplasts, the apicoplast has become one of the prime targets for the development of parasite-specific drugs.

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