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Concept: Parasitism


There are 600,000 new malaria cases daily worldwide. The gold standard for estimating the parasite burden and the corresponding severity of the disease consists in manually counting the number of parasites in blood smears through a microscope, a process that can take more than 20 minutes of an expert microscopist’s time.

Concepts: Immune system, Mathematics, Parasitism


Simultaneous infection by multiple parasite species (viruses, bacteria, helminths, protozoa or fungi) is commonplace. Most reports show co-infected humans to have worse health than those with single infections. However, we have little understanding of how co-infecting parasites interact within human hosts. We used data from over 300 published studies to construct a network that offers the first broad indications of how groups of co-infecting parasites tend to interact. The network had three levels comprising parasites, the resources they consume and the immune responses they elicit, connected by potential, observed and experimentally proved links. Pairs of parasite species had most potential to interact indirectly through shared resources, rather than through immune responses or other parasites. In addition, the network comprised 10 tightly knit groups, eight of which were associated with particular body parts, and seven of which were dominated by parasite-resource links. Reported co-infection in humans is therefore structured by physical location within the body, with bottom-up, resource-mediated processes most often influencing how, where and which co-infecting parasites interact. The many indirect interactions show how treating an infection could affect other infections in co-infected patients, but the compartmentalized structure of the network will limit how far these indirect effects are likely to spread.

Concepts: Immune system, Inflammation, Infectious disease, Bacteria, Infection, Fungus, Parasitism, Antiseptic


The health of the honeybee and, indirectly, global crop production are threatened by several biotic and abiotic factors, which play a poorly defined role in the induction of widespread colony losses. Recent descriptive studies suggest that colony losses are often related to the interaction between pathogens and other stress factors, including parasites. Through an integrated analysis of the population and molecular changes associated with the collapse of honeybee colonies infested by the parasitic mite Varroa destructor, we show that this parasite can de-stabilise the within-host dynamics of Deformed wing virus (DWV), transforming a cryptic and vertically transmitted virus into a rapidly replicating killer, which attains lethal levels late in the season. The de-stabilisation of DWV infection is associated with an immunosuppression syndrome, characterized by a strong down-regulation of the transcription factor NF-κB. The centrality of NF-κB in host responses to a range of environmental challenges suggests that this transcription factor can act as a common currency underlying colony collapse that may be triggered by different causes. Our results offer an integrated account for the multifactorial origin of honeybee losses and a new framework for assessing, and possibly mitigating, the impact of environmental challenges on honeybee health.

Concepts: Immune system, DNA, Bacteria, Parasitism, Beekeeping, Biotic component, Varroa destructor, Deformed wing virus


Despite extensive study, little is known about the origins of the mutualistic bacterial endosymbionts that inhabit approximately 10% of the world’s insects. In this study, we characterized a novel opportunistic human pathogen, designated “strain HS,” and found that it is a close relative of the insect endosymbiont Sodalis glossinidius. Our results indicate that ancestral relatives of strain HS have served as progenitors for the independent descent of Sodalis-allied endosymbionts found in several insect hosts. Comparative analyses indicate that the gene inventories of the insect endosymbionts were independently derived from a common ancestral template through a combination of irreversible degenerative changes. Our results provide compelling support for the notion that mutualists evolve from pathogenic progenitors. They also elucidate the role of degenerative evolutionary processes in shaping the gene inventories of symbiotic bacteria at a very early stage in these mutualistic associations.

Concepts: Archaea, Bacteria, Evolution, Microbiology, Symbiosis, Parasitism, Endosymbiont, Mutualism


Plants respond to herbivory with the emission of induced plant volatiles. These volatiles may attract parasitic wasps (parasitoids) that attack the herbivores. Although in this sense the emission of volatiles has been hypothesized to be beneficial to the plant, it is still debated whether this is also the case under natural conditions because other organisms such as herbivores also respond to the emitted volatiles. One important group of organisms, the enemies of parasitoids, hyperparasitoids, has not been included in this debate because little is known about their foraging behaviour. Here, we address whether hyperparasitoids use herbivore-induced plant volatiles to locate their host. We show that hyperparasitoids find their victims through herbivore-induced plant volatiles emitted in response to attack by caterpillars that in turn had been parasitized by primary parasitoids. Moreover, only one of two species of parasitoids affected herbivore-induced plant volatiles resulting in the attraction of more hyperparasitoids than volatiles from plants damaged by healthy caterpillars. This resulted in higher levels of hyperparasitism of the parasitoid that indirectly gave away its presence through its effect on plant odours induced by its caterpillar host. Here, we provide evidence for a role of compounds in the oral secretion of parasitized caterpillars that induce these changes in plant volatile emission. Our results demonstrate that the effects of herbivore-induced plant volatiles should be placed in a community-wide perspective that includes species in the fourth trophic level to improve our understanding of the ecological functions of volatile release by plants. Furthermore, these findings suggest that the impact of species in the fourth trophic level should also be considered when developing Integrated Pest Management strategies aimed at optimizing the control of insect pests using parasitoids.

Concepts: Species, Insect, Plant, Animal, Parasitism, Ant, Herbivore, Hymenoptera


Cutaneous leishmaniasis (CL) is a major public health problem in Libya. The objective of this study was to investigate, for the first time, epidemiological features of CL outbreaks in Libya including molecular identification of parasites, the geographical distribution of cases and possible scenarios of parasite transmission.

Concepts: Health care, Public health, Health, Epidemiology, Intestinal parasite, Parasitism, Leishmaniasis, Cutaneous leishmaniasis


The interactions between intestinal microbiota, immune system, and pathogens describe the human gut as a complex ecosystem, where all components play a relevant role in modulating each other and in the maintenance of homeostasis. The balance among the gut microbiota and the human body appear to be crucial for health maintenance. Intestinal parasites, both protozoans and helminths, interact with the microbial community modifying the balance between host and commensal microbiota. On the other hand, gut microbiota represents a relevant factor that may strongly interfere with the pathophysiology of the infections. In addition to the function that gut commensal microbiota may have in the processes that determine the survival and the outcome of many parasitic infections, including the production of nutritive macromolecules, also probiotics can play an important role in reducing the pathogenicity of many parasites. On these bases, there is a growing interest in explaining the rationale on the possible interactions between the microbiota, immune response, inflammatory processes, and intestinal parasites.

Concepts: Immune system, Inflammation, Bacteria, Gut flora, Microbiology, Intestinal parasite, Parasitism, Commensalism


BACKGROUND: Schistosoma mansoni is one of the causative agents of schistosomiasis, a neglected tropical disease that affects about 237 million people worldwide. Despite recent efforts, we still lack a general understanding of the relevant host-parasite interactions, and the possible treatments are limited by the emergence of resistant strains and the absence of a vaccine. The S. mansoni genome was completely sequenced and still under continuous annotation. Nevertheless, more than 45% of the encoded proteins remain without experimental characterization or even functional prediction. To improve our knowledge regarding the biology of this parasite, we conducted a proteome-wide evolutionary analysis to provide a broad view of the S. mansoni’s proteome evolution and to improve its functional annotation. RESULTS: Using a phylogenomic approach, we reconstructed the S. mansoni phylome, which comprises the evolutionary histories of all parasite proteins and their homologs across 12 other organisms. The analysis of a total of 7,964 phylogenies allowed a deeper understanding of genomic complexity and evolutionary adaptations to a parasitic lifestyle. In particular, the identification of lineage-specific gene duplications pointed to the diversification of several protein families that are relevant for host-parasite interaction, including proteases, tetraspanins, fucosyltransferases, venom allergen-like proteins, and tegumental-allergen-like proteins. In addition to the evolutionary knowledge, the phylome data enabled us to automatically re-annotate 3,451 proteins through a phylogenetic-based approach rather than solely sequence similarity searches. To allow further exploitation of this valuable data, all information has been made available at PhylomeDB ( CONCLUSIONS: In this study, we used an evolutionary approach to assess S. mansoni parasite biology, improve genome/proteome functional annotation, and provide insights into host-parasite interactions. Taking advantage of a proteome-wide perspective rather than focusing on individual proteins, we identified that this parasite has experienced specific gene duplication events, particularly affecting genes that are potentially related to the parasitic lifestyle. These innovations may be related to the mechanisms that protect S. mansoni against host immune responses being important adaptations for the parasite survival in a potentially hostile environment. Continuing this work, a comparative analysis involving genomic, transcriptomic, and proteomic data from other helminth parasites, other parasites, and vectors will supply more information regarding parasite’s biology as well as host-parasite interactions.

Concepts: Immune system, DNA, Gene, Genetics, Evolution, Schistosomiasis, Parasitism, Gene duplication


Schistosomiasis is a parasitic disease that is highly prevalent, especially in developing countries. Biomphalaria tenagophila is an important invertebrate host of Schistosoma mansoni in Brazil, with some strains (e.g. Cabo Frio) being highly susceptible to the parasite, whereas others (e.g. Taim) are completely resistant to infection. Therefore, B. tenagophila is an important research model for studying immune defense mechanisms against S. mansoni. The internal defense system (IDS) of the snail comprises hemocytes and hemolymph factors acting together to recognize self from non-self molecular patterns to eliminate the threat of infection. We performed experiments to understand the cellular defenses related to the resistance and/or susceptibility of B. tenagophila to S. mansoni. During the early stages of infection, fibrous host cells of both snail strains were arranged as a thin layer surrounding the sporocysts. However, at later stages of infection, the cellular reactions in resistant snails were increasingly more intense, with thicker layers surrounding the parasites, in contrast to susceptible strains. All parasites were damaged or destroyed inside resistant snails after 10 h of infection. By contrast, parasites inside susceptible snails appeared to be morphologically healthy. We also performed experiments using isolated hemocytes from the two strains interacting with sporocysts. Hemocyte attachment started as early as 1 h after initial infection in both strains, but the killing of sporocysts was exclusive to hemocytes from the resistant strain and was time course dependent. The resistant strain was able to kill all sporocysts. In conclusion, our study revealed important aspects of the initial process of infection related to immune defense responses of strains of B. tenagophila that were resistant to S. mansoni compared with strains that were susceptible. Such information is relevant for the survival or death of the parasites and so is important in the development of control measures against this parasite.

Concepts: Immune system, Schistosomiasis, Schistosoma mansoni, Parasitism, Biomphalaria, Biomphalaria tenagophila, Biomphalaria glabrata, Biomphalaria straminea


Aphids commonly harbor bacterial facultative symbionts that have a variety of effects upon their aphid hosts, including defense against hymenopteran parasitoids and fungal pathogens. The soybean aphid, Aphis glycines Matsumura (Hemiptera: Aphididae), is infected with the symbiont Arsenophonus sp., which has an unknown role in its aphid host. Our research goals were to document the infection frequency and diversity of the symbiont in field-collected soybean aphids, and to determine whether Arsenophonus is defending soybean aphid against natural enemies. We performed diagnostic PCR and sequenced four Arsenophonus genes in soybean aphids from their native and introduced range to estimate infection frequency and genetic diversity, and found that Arsenophonus infection is highly prevalent and genetically uniform. To evaluate the defensive role of Arsenophonus, we cured two aphid genotypes of their natural Arsenophonus infection through ampicillin microinjection, resulting in infected and uninfected isolines within the same genetic background. These isolines were subjected to parasitoid assays using a recently introduced biological control agent, Binodoxys communis [Braconidae], a naturally recruited parasitoid, Aphelinus certus [Aphelinidae], and a commercially available biological control agent, Aphidius colemani [Braconidae]. We also assayed the effect of the common aphid fungal pathogen, Pandora neoaphidis (Remaudiere & Hennebert) Humber (Entomophthorales: Entomophthoraceae), on the same aphid isolines. We did not find differences in successful parasitism for any of the parasitoid species, nor did we find differences in P. neoaphidis infection between our treatments. Our conclusion is that Arsenophonus does not defend its soybean aphid host against these major parasitoid and fungal natural enemies.

Concepts: Bacteria, Evolution, Parasitism, Hemiptera, Biological pest control, Parasitoid, Aphididae, Soybean aphid