Blood parasite’s genetic code cracked

U. MELBOURNE (AUS) — Scientists have sequenced the genome of a parasite responsible for one of the most socioeconomically devastating diseases in the world.

An international research team led by Neil Young and Robin Gasser from the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Veterinary Science sequenced the nuclear genome of Schistosoma haematobium from a single pair of tiny worms.

The blood parasite is linked to bladder cancer and HIV/AIDS and leads to a disease known as schistosomiasis haematobia in more than 112 million people in Africa.


S. haematobium is one of three related species of schistosome to be sequenced, but is the most devastating, particularly because of its link to cancer and AIDS. The other two species are Schistosoma mansoni (Africa and South America) and Schistosoma japonicum (in parts of Asia), which both cause intestinal/liver disease in humans.

“This genome was the missing piece of a puzzle in schistosomiasis research. By revealing the genetic blueprint of Schistosoma haematobium, we now have a biological road map of the three major parasite species responsible for human schistosomiasis globally, Young says.

“Most importantly, the genome of Schistosoma haematobiumd will offer insights into how the intimate relationship between a parasite and its human host can induce malignant bladder cancer.

“Currently there is no vaccine and only one drug available to treat Schistosoma haematobium infection, so revealing its genetic blueprint provides an unprecedented resource for the design of new disease interventions, including drugs and vaccines.”

Schistosoma haematobium is transmitted from a freshwater snail to humans. Worms dwell in blood vessels and release eggs that become embedded in the bladder wall, causing chronic immune-mediated disease and inducing cancer.

The research, published in the journal Nature Genetics, was jointly funded by the Australian Research Council, BGI-Shenzhen, and the National Health and Medical Research Council in Australia.

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