The genome sequence of the parasitic hookworm Ancylostoma ceylanicum is reported online this week in Nature Genetics. The results of the study could help lead to a vaccine against this parasite and related hookworm species.
Hookworms that infect humans, including A. ceylanicum, can cause anemia and low white blood cell count and can also be life threatening in pregnant women and lead to cognitive defects in young children. While treatments do exist for hookworm infections, accurate diagnosis can be difficult and there is no vaccine.
Erich Schwarz and colleagues sequenced the genome of A. ceylanicum to better understand its biology and to allow comparisons to related species. A. ceylanicum was chosen for this study because this species, unlike other hookworms that infect people, can infect other mammals, allowing the authors to use it as a model for hookworm infection. The researchers identified suitable candidate targets for vaccine development by looking for genes that are conserved among the parasites but are absent in mammals. Among these, 13 particularly promising candidate genes were found that increased in expression level during an infection experiment in hamsters. The proteins produced from those genes belong to classes that are necessary for hookworms to survive in and/or infect their hosts.