New therapies for inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, and autism could be on the horizon, after a global University of Melbourne-led study (“Whipworm genome and dual-species transcriptome analyses provide molecular insights into an intimate host-parasite interaction”), which appears in Nature Genetics, successfully mapped the genes of a parasitic worm in pigs.

According to lead researcher, Aaron Jex, Ph.D., faculty of veterinary science, “We know that humans infected with the harmless ‘pig whipworm’ can have significantly reduced symptoms linked to autoimmune diseases. And now we have the genetic sequence of the worm, it opens the door to future human drug designs and treatment.”

Although the “pig whipworm” causes disease and losses in livestock, it does not cause disease in humans. In contrast, the “human whipworm” infects around 1 billion people, mainly children in developing nations, and causes dysentery, malnourishment, and impairment of physical and mental development.

“We report here the whole-genome sequences of the human-infective Trichuris trichiura and the mouse laboratory model Trichuris muris. On the basis of whole-transcriptome analyses, we identify many genes that are expressed in a sex- or life stage-specific manner and characterize the transcriptional landscape of a morphological region with unique biological adaptations, namely, bacillary band and stichosome, found only in whipworms and related parasites,” wrote the investigators. “Using RNA sequencing data from whipworm-infected mice, we describe the regulated T helper 1 (TH1)-like immune response of the chronically infected cecum in unprecedented detail. In silico screening identified numerous new potential drug targets against trichuriasis. Together, these genomes and associated functional data elucidate key aspects of the molecular host-parasite interactions that define chronic whipworm infection.”

“The genes tell us about the proteins that this worm uses to interact with our immune systems,” explained Robin Glaser, Ph.D., faculty of veterinary science. “Knowing the worm's molecular landscape could be very useful in starting to understand autoimmune diseases in humans.”

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