doi:10.1038/nindia.2016.91 Published online 18 July 2016
Worm infections in animal meats are a major cause for concern in regions dependent on a meat-rich diet. A database of worms from the north eastern states of India would now come handy in understanding tropical parasitic diseases triggered by such worm infections1. The database, essentially characterising the massive helminth population of north-eastern India, could be helpful in understanding diseases caused by worms in many tropical south east Asian countries.
“The idea was to create a compendium of exotic parasite biology and the impact of these worms on human wellbeing,” says Devendra Kumar Biswal from the bioinformatics centre of the North Eastern Hill University (NEHU). Biswal created the database along with colleagues Manish Debnath, Graciously Kharumnuid and Welfrank Thongnibah. The research, which covers major contributions of Veena Tandon, erstwhile Professor at NEHU, Shillong and presently with the Biotech Park, Lucknow, relies on primary data analysis and parasite data available in public domains.
The team designed the database using bioinformatics solutions to list the neglected helminthic infections. Around 100 unique parasites, not hitherto reported, have been described in the databse, according to Biswal.
The database lists a complete spectrum of worm infections prevalent in animal meats such as livestock, poultry, frogs, fishes and crabs in north-eastern India. It provides information on the parasites' hosts, geographical distribution, diagnostic characters and images. Understanding the etiology of food-borne tropical parasitic diseases from worm infections could be important for the development of interventions and effective disease control strategies, the researchers say.
“In most south-east Asian countries, there is a lot of faunal overlap, meaning these countries might have isolates of one particular organism in various different forms,” Biswal says. This overlap, he says, could help scientists and policy makers in many of these countries to use the database for their benefit.
The database houses information on classical taxonomy, disease information, morphological classification and literary references along with molecular sequences that serve as genus/species specific markers and can aid in diagnosis of the parasite strains. The database would also be helpful as a study material for students interested in parasite information and their biology. Users can search the free database location-wise, species-wise or host-wise and the sites from where the specimens were collected through Keyhole Markup Language (KML) files linked to google maps.
The database has resulted in some immediate successes in identifying causal agents of neglected tropical diseases in humans. The researchers have looked at zoonotic parasites with medico-veterinary importance, such as the Indian lung fluke Paragonimus westermani, the giant intestinal fluke Fasciolopsis buski and the emerging tropical parasite Procerovum varium, a trematode causing eye infections in children who bathe in ponds or rivers.
1. Biswal, D. K. et al. Northeast India helminth parasite information database (NEIHPID): Knowledge base for helminth parasites. PLOS ONE 11: e0157459 (2016) doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0157459