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Aberystwyth University discoveries 'will help combat a deadly tropical disease'

A parasite which infects snails kills 200,000 people annually. Photo: Aberystwyth University

Scientists at Aberystwyth University have contributed to international efforts to unravel the genome of a snail species responsible for passing on a parasite that kills 200,000 people every year.

Researchers have been studying the snail Biomphalaria glabrata which transmits the neglected tropical disease schistosomiasis, also known as Bilharzia.

More than 600 million people living in Africa, Asia and South America are infected by the highly-pathogenic blood fluke worm.

People are susceptible to infection when they bathe, play, swim, wash, fish or walk through water infested by the parasite released from the aquatic snail.

Researchers found microbes that live in the snail and the hope is a way will be found to encourage the microbes to turn against the snail.

They also helped to identify a set of genes that are used by the snail to control normal biological processes, including reproduction.

They went on to show that the parasite is able to re-programme these snail control genes.

We believe that it is possible to combat the parasite by manipulating these genes so that energy can be taken away from snail reproduction and instead provided to boost snail immunity, ultimately limiting the transmission of schistosomiasis in endemic areas.

– Dr Kathy Geyer

The findings are published in Nature Communications and PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases.