Nobel Prize winning German microbiologist Robert Koch, who had been sent to east Africa to study the disease, was the first to describe the T. parva parasite and made the first attempt to develop a vaccine. Veterinary bacteriologist Arnold Theiler later made significant discoveries about the parasite, which is named for him.
Vish Nene, a former ILRI scientist who came to TIGR in 2001 to join the T. parva project, says the genome sequence provides useful information that will help scientists better understand how the parasite malignantly transforms cattle white blood cells into cancer-like cells that multiply rapidly, eventually leading to fever and death. By studying that process, scientists are trying to learn more about the genesis of human cancers.
"This parasite has an astonishing ability to induce cancer in its host cell in a way that is reversible," says Nene. "There are clear links to cancer biology in humans, and this study has given us some clues to pursue."
The genome is also helping scientists who study human malaria, which is carried by a related parasite. Malcolm Gardner, a TIGR scientist who is the paper's first author, says scientists found that T. parva "lacks several biochemical pathways that are present in the malaria parasite, suggesting that Theileria is more dependent on its host for nutrients."
Gardner, who was also the first author of the 2002 paper on the genome of the deadliest human malaria parasite, says that several of the malaria parasite's metabolic pathways that Theileria lacks are found in an intracellular structure called the apicoplast. "This information could be used to develop drugs that could be targeted specifically at each parasite or at several re