Amoebic dysentery (amoebiasis) is a major cause of morbidity and mortality in less-developed nations. It is caused by the protozoa Entamoeba histolytica, and is rapidly spread via water contaminated with faeces or from food served by contaminated hands. It is hoped that by investigating the biology of E. histolytica new methods of prevention and treatment can be developed to reduce the burden of this major human pathogen.
The genome of E. histolytica has been fully sequenced by a team of scientists led by Brendan Loftus at The Institute for Genomic Research in Maryland. Detailed analysis of the sequence, reported in the current issue of Nature, shows that E. histolytica has almost 10,000 genes and highlights adaptations shared with other anaerobic pathogens such as Trichomonas and Giardia. A large number of genes encoding sensing and signaling proteins were identified in the genome, suggesting that the physiology of E. histolytica is more complex than was originally thought, and is well-adapted to the harsh gastrointestinal environment. Interestingly, there is evidence that the genome has been shaped by numerous gene transfers from bacteria, highlighting potential new drug targets and providing hope that this debilitating human parasite can be effectively controlled in the future.
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