The major membrane phospholipid classes, described thus far, include phosphatidylcholine (PtdCho), phosphatidylethanolamine (PtdEtn), phosphatidylserine (PtdSer), and phosphatidylinositol (PtdIns). Here, we demonstrate the natural occurrence and genetic origin of an exclusive and rather abundant lipid, phosphatidylthreonine (PtdThr), in a common eukaryotic model parasite, Toxoplasma gondii. The parasite expresses a novel enzyme PtdThr synthase (TgPTS) to produce this lipid in its endoplasmic reticulum. Genetic disruption of TgPTS abrogates de novo synthesis of PtdThr and impairs the lytic cycle and virulence of T. gondii. The observed phenotype is caused by a reduced gliding motility, which blights the parasite egress and ensuing host cell invasion. Notably, the PTS mutant can prevent acute as well as yet-incurable chronic toxoplasmosis in a mouse model, which endorses its potential clinical utility as a metabolically attenuated vaccine. Together, the work also illustrates the functional speciation of two evolutionarily related membrane phospholipids, i.e., PtdThr and PtdSer.
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