In this activity, students will model how the parasitic malaria protist Plasmodiumfalciparum evades the host immune response through a phenomenon called antigenswitching. Specifically, slips of paper representing malaria-infected red blood cellswill be used to demonstrate how random changes in the expression of Plasmodiumproteins that display on the surface of human red blood cells helps the parasiteavoid destruction by the host immune system. Students start with a single infectedred blood cell with a specific surface marker protein, and from there will simulatethe spread of infection through multiple generations of infection (each generationconsisting of a parasite infecting a red blood cell, dividing and multiplying insidethe red blood cell, then bursting to release new parasites that go on to infect newred blood cells). Student will find that the parasite occasionally changes the typeof surface marker protein expressed over several generations. When the immunesystem begins destroying infected cells displaying the original surface protein,cells that have switched to expressing a different protein survive and continue todivide.
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