In vertebrate hosts, malaria parasites produce specialized male and female sexual stages (gametocytes). Soon after being taken up by a mosquito, gametocytes rapidly produce gametes and, once mated, they infect their vector and can be transmitted to new hosts. Despite being the parasite stages that were first identified (over a century ago), gametocytes have remained elusive, and basic questions remain concerning their biology. However, the postgenomic era has substantiated information on the specialized molecular machinery of gametocytogenesis and expedited the development of molecular tools to detect and quantify gametocytes. The application of such highly sensitive and specific tools has opened up novel approaches and provided new insights into gametocyte biology. Here, we review the discoveries made during the past decade, highlight unanswered questions and suggest new directions.
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