Scientists have decoded the DNA of the parasitic worm that causes trichinosis, a disease linked to eating raw or undercooked pork or carnivorous wild game animals, such as bear and walrus.
After analyzing the genome, investigators at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and their collaborators report they have identified unique features of the parasite, Trichinella spiralis, which provide potential targets for new drugs to fight the illness. The research is published online Feb. 20 in Nature Genetics.
While trichinosis is no longer a problem in the United States fewer than a dozen cases are reported annually an estimated 11 million people worldwide are infected. Current treatments are effective only if the disease is diagnosed early.
"It takes less than two weeks for the larvae to travel from the intestine to muscle, where they live," says lead author Makedonka Mitreva, PhD, research assistant professor of genetics at Washington University's Genome Center. "Once the worms invade the muscle, drugs are less effective. While the disease is rarely deadly, patients often live for months or years with chronic muscle pain and fatigue until the worms eventually die."
Today, trichinosis occurs most often in areas of Asia and Eastern Europe where pigs are sometimes fed raw meat, and meat inspections are lax.
The new research also has implications far beyond a single parasitic disease, the researchers say. T. spiralis is just one of many thousands of parasitic roundworms called nematodes that, according to the World Health Organization, infect 2 billion people worldwide, severely sickening 300 million. Other species of parasitic nematodes cause diseases in pets and livestock and billions of dollars of crop losses annually.
Among nematodes, T. spiralis diverged early, some 600-700 million years before the crown species, C. elegans, a model organism used in research la
|Contact: Caroline Arbanas|
Washington University School of Medicine