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UNM Researchers Fight World’s Second Deadliest Disease

UNM Researchers Fight World’s Second Deadliest Disease

Scientists Sequence Genome Responsible for Parasitic Crisis

A team of researchers led by a University of New Mexico professor has sequenced the genome of a tropical snail responsible for the second deadliest disease in the world.

An ability to understand the genetic makeup of the Biomphalaria glabrata, a tropical Ram’s Horn snail, could lead to a way to disrupt the snail’s transmission of schistosomiasis, also known as snail fever or bilharzias, a disease that is surpassed only by malaria in its ability to kill humans.

Schistosomiasis is spread by a flatworm parasite found in fresh waters of the Caribbean, sub-Saharan Africa, South America and Asia. It affected about 252 million people worldwide in 2015. As many as 250,000 people die from it each year.

The snail plays a significant role in the life cycle of the schistosomiasis-carrying flatworm. The parasite infects the snail early on its life, essentially taking over the snail’s body, impacting its reproductive and metabolic processes. Once fully developed, the parasite leaves the snail, later infecting a human host through contact in water, according to a statement from the UNM researchers.

The disease is extremely easy to contract. Once the parasite leaves its host snail, it is able to live in a body of water before breaking through skin to infect a human body. In Africa for example, simply putting your hand in the Nile River can lead to infection. The World Health Organization hopes to eliminate snail fever by 2025 – a goal that is made increasingly more likely because of the UNM research, the UNM statement said.

According to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, schistosomiasis attacks the urinary tract and intestines. Signs and symptoms may include abdominal pain, diarrhea, bloody stool, or blood in the urine. People who have been infected for a long time may experience liver damage, kidney failure, infertility, or bladder cancer. In children, it may cause poor growth and learning difficulty.

The 100-member research team, led by UNM Associate Professor Coenraad Adema, published its work in the biological journal Nature Communications. The UNM Biology Department also contributed to the research, the statement said.

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Dennis Domrzalski is managing editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at dennis@freeabq.com.

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