"T. spiralis occupies a strategic position in the evolutionary tree of nematodes, which helps fill in important knowledge gaps," explains senior author Richard K. Wilson, PhD, director of Washington University's Genome Center and professor of genetics. "By comparing nematode genomes, we have identified key molecular features that distinguish parasitic nematodes, raising the prospect that a single targeted drug may be effective against multiple species."
Over all, the genome of T. spiralis is smaller than that of C. elegans. It has 15,808 genes, compared to C. elegans' 20,000.
Moreover, about 45 percent of T. spiralis genes appear to be novel. These genes have not been found in other organisms and are not listed in public gene databases. The researchers say the worm's early evolutionary split or its distinctive lifestyle it can't survive outside the body may account for this extensive collection of enigmatic genes.
The researchers also found 274 families of proteins that are conserved among all nematodes and that do not exist in other organisms, including humans. Furthermore, they identified 64 protein families that are exclusive to parasitic nematodes.
"This provides opportunities for scientists to dig deeper into the distinctive features of parasitic nematodes that can be targeted with new drugs," Mitreva says. "If those drugs target molecular features unique to parasitic worms, it is more likely the side effects of those drugs will be minimal in humans."
|Contact: Caroline Arbanas|
Washington University School of Medicine