An infrared microspectroscopy method can be used to quickly identify individual cells in a blood smear that have been infected with the malaria parasite, the cause of more than 1 million human fatalities annually (Analyst 2014, DOI: 10.1039/c4an00989d). The advance may lead to exceptionally sensitive techniques for rapidly detecting malaria at the earliest stage of infection, an analytical feat that could aid disease treatment and is inaccessible to other detection methods. Several techniques are used currently to detect the disease, but each method suffers from shortcomings that limit its use in poor countries, where the disease is prevalent. For example, optical microscopy is labor intensive and requires substantial expertise. Test strips that can capture parasite antigens are simple to use but not quantitative. And methods based on polymerase chain reactions are expensive. Now, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, physicist Carol J. Hirschmugl and coworkers have demonstrated that by focusing on distinct parasite lipid signatures, an IR microscope featuring a focal plane array detector can generate high-contrast, chemically specific images of single cells in the early stage of malaria infection. The demonstration relied on synchrotron light, but ongoing improvements in laboratory IR source brightness and detector sensitivity could move this method to a clinical setting, the team suggests.