The genome sequences of three species of parasitic whipworm are reported in two independent papers published online this week in Nature Genetics. Findings from the studies could lead to new treatments for whipworm infection and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Whipworm infection affects nearly 1 billion people worldwide via the cells of the large intestine, causing a disease known as trichuriasis. Infection can cause abdominal pain, diarrhea and anemia, among other symptoms. In children, trichuriasis can cause malnourishment and stunted growth.
Matthew Berriman and colleagues decoded the DNA sequence of two related whipworms: the human parasite, Trichuris trichura and the mouse parasite, Trichuris muris. Using mice, the authors observed the genetic changes that occur in the whipworm during infection, and translated these results to human infections. Berriman and colleagues found many of the genes in whipworm that may be involved in trichuriasis and also identified 29 genes that are essential to the worm and can be targeted by existing drugs.
In a separate study, Aaron Jex and colleagues sequenced the genome of a third whipworm species, T. suis, which infects pigs. In contrast to the negative effects of T. trichura, infecting humans with the eggs of pig whipworms can actually help treat IBD by reducing the overactive human immune response. The researchers identified many genes in the pig whipworm that control immune response.