Lead scientist Dr Jake Baum said the real breakthrough for the team had been the ability to capture high-resolution images of the parasite at each and every stage of invasion, and to do so reliably and repeatedly.
"It is the first time we've been able to actually visualise this process in all its molecular glory, combining new advances developed at the institute for isolating viable parasites with innovative imaging technologies.
"Super resolution microscopy has opened up a new realm of understanding into how malaria parasites actually invade the human red blood cell.
"Whilst we have observed this miniature parasite drive its way into the cell before, the beauty of the new imaging technology is that it provides a quantum leap in the amount of detail we can see, revealing key molecular and cellular events required for each stage of the invasion process," Baum said.
The imaging technology, called OMX 3D SIM super resolution microscopy, is a powerful new 3D tool that captures cellular processes unfolding at nanometre scales.
"This is just the beginning of an exciting new era of discoveries enabled by this technology that will lead to a better understanding of how microbes such as malaria, bacteria and viruses cause infectious disease," team member Professor Cynthia Whitchurch said.