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Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology, together with American colleagues, have decoded the genome of the Pristionchus pacificus nematode, thereby gaining insight into the evolution of parasitism. In their work, which has been published in the latest edition of Nature Genetics, the scientists from Professor Ralf J. Sommer's department in Tbingen have shown that the genome of the nematode consists of a surprisingly large number of genes, some of which have unexpected functions. These include a number of genes that are helpful in breaking down harmful substances and for survival in a strange habitat: the Pristionchus uses beetles as a hideout and means of transport, feeding on the fungi and bacteria that spread out on their carcasses once they have died. It thus provides the clue to understanding the complex interactions between host and parasite. (Nature Genetics, September 22, 2008)
With well over a million different species, nematodes are the largest group in the animal kingdom. The worms, usually only just one millimetre in length, are found on all continents and in all ecosystems on Earth. Some, as parasites, are major pathogens to humans, animals and plants. Within the group of nematodes, at least seven forms of parasitism have developed independently from one another. One member of the nematode group has acquired a certain degree of fame: due to its humble lifestyle, small size and quick breeding pattern, the Caenorhabditis elegans is one of the most popular animals being used as a model in biologists' laboratories. It was the first multicellular animal whose genome was completely decoded in 1998.
Ten years later, a group of scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tbingen, together with researchers from the National Human Genome Researc
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