Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Shape-shifting Schistosomes

Disrupting stem cells in the schistosome parasitic flatworm could prevent them reproducing

01 September 2018

Shape-shifting Schistosomes

When it comes to transformations in Nature, what comes to mind? Caterpillars into butterflies? Tadpoles into frogs? What about flatworms? Probably not your first answer but schistosomes – parasitic flatworms that cause potentially fatal schistosomiasis – undergo multiple transformations as they adapt to their different hosts, namely snails and mammals. Researchers probe the stem cells responsible for these transformations. They infected snails with schistosome larvae (pictured, multicoloured), harvested the resulting mature larvae and used these to infect mice. The parasites were collected at different stages along this infectious journey and their stem cells isolated. Looking at the genes activated in these cells revealed a group of stem cells that make germline cells, which form sperm and eggs. Interfering with one gene in particular in the stem cells disrupted germline cell production. These insights could help develop ways to stop the reproduction of schistosomes, which infect 250 million people worldwide.

Written by Lux Fatimathas

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