A University study suggests that malaria parasites can detect when they are being threatened and change their behaviour in order to increase their chances of survival.
Researchers hope that the study, funded by the Wellcome Trust, may inform strategies to control the disease, which causes one million deaths each year.
During infections, however, some parasites do not replicate and instead develop into a specialised transmission form - a process that enables the disease to be spread by mosquitoes.
Parasites must produce the right balance of replicating and transmission forms to ensure that they are not only able to survive, but also able to spread infection.
The new study shows that when drug-sensitive strains of the human malaria parasite are exposed to low doses of anti-malarial drugs, the balance of types of forms is upset.
This study uncovers a new way that parasites are able to resist the effects of drugs. This is also likely to have important implications for human disease control strategies.