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Useful Parasites

Parasites as such are known to be harmful. Some of them like malaria can kill. While some microbes like the Wolbachia can often make the host female less fertile. A recent study has revealed that parasites can become more helpful rather than harmful. The vivacious Wolbachia is actually giving the host a boost in its fertility, in order to spread itself in nature.

This new study reveals the Symbiotic or mutually beneficial partnership that develops in nature. This can be seen in the crucial relationship of the Mitochondria that dwells in cell to help it breathe oxygen. "Mitochondria are thought to have evolved from a symbiotic relationship. It may be that the Wolbachia in this case is well on the way to having a similar relationship that will eventually develop into a dependency by the host on the Wolbachia for survival," said evolutionary biologist Andrew Weeks at the University of Melbourne in Australia. Wolbachia is depended by the wasp and the worm to generate eggs or produce young ones.

Wolbachia is a bacteria that is spread through the mothers. These bacteria can produce diverse effect on the host. Most mystifying of the lot, is turning the male into female. Even causing the female to reproduce without the male, due to this there is an increase in the female promiscuity and male collapse. Many a times there has been instances of a decrease in the female eggs produced.

Weeks and his team studied the fruit fly Drosophila simulans living in California.Wolbachia infected these flies more than 20 years ago, now it has spread from south to north.

Earlier the parasite was s seen to decrease the fertility of the infected host by 15 to 20% under lab condition. But now after the laborious research it was found that there is a boost of 10% in fertility among the infected host.

We just didn't expect it to happen so quickly," Weeks told LiveScience. It is yet to be seen how the parasite activates such fe rtility. Weeks is speculating on the fact that maybe, it produces some nutritional benefit in the host.

Remarkable evolutionary changes usually millions of years but here in this aspect it has taken only 2 decades which is quite dramatic. The explosive speed at which bacteria grow likely helps explain the speed of this evolutionary change. The fact that Wolbachia can alter itself so quickly might also help explain why the germs have such a diversity of effects on their hosts, Weeks added.


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