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Researchers at LSTM part of the international team to sequence the tsetse genome

Researchers from LSTM are among those who have sequenced the genome of a species of tsetse fly (Glossina morsitans). The outcomes of this research will be invaluable to understanding more about the tsetse and other insect vector biology, knowledge which can be applied to improving the current vector control methods and may lead to more effective and affordable control strategies.

A paper summarising some of the findings will be published in the journal Science today, with more specific and in depth analyses of various aspects of tsetse biology being published as a collection of 10 papers within the PLOS family of journals.

The tsetse fly is the vector for African trypanosomiasis, a potentially fatal disease in people (sleeping sickness) and livestock (Nagana), throughout sub-Saharan Africa, with an estimated 70 million people at risk of infection. Unlike other disease vectors, such as mosquitoes and sandflies, both sexes of the tsetse fly feed exclusively on vertebrate blood, meaning that all tsetse are capable of spreading the disease. To deal with the nourishment issues arising from feeding exclusively on blood the tsetse has formed complex relationships with three different symbiotic bacteria. It is also unusual among insects as it gives birth to live young having evolved to lactate in order to provide nourishment to intrauterine offspring.

The work was carried out over a 10 year period following the formation of the International Glossina Genome Initiative in 2003. Around 146 scientists have contributed to the work, including members of the departments of Vector Biology, Parasitology and Clinical Sciences within LSTM, along with colleagues from around the world, with at least half of the contributors being from African institutions.

LSTM's Professor Mike Lehane was a member of the project leadership team and describes the significance of the work: "Human infections with African trypanosomes can be fatal if left untreated. It has not been possible to develop a vaccine for the disease due to the ability of trypanosomes to evade the mammalian immune system, this coupled with the fact that there are some significant side-effects and reports of growing resistance to current trypanocidal drug treatments means that vector control strategies remain the best hope to eliminate the disease.

"The work that has been carried out by such a large group of international researchers and scientists has not been without its challenges, but has given us detailed information on a wide range of aspects of tsetse biology. It has provided us with a vital research tool, which will be continually added to over time and may well lead to control strategies that can bring an end to suffering caused by the disease both in terms of the human cost as well as the economic losses due to affected livestock."


Contact: Clare Bebb
Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine

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