Roundworms, or nemotodes, can be found in practically every ecosystem on Earth and are thought to account for 80 percent of all individual animals on the planet. Making up some of these numbers is Toxocara canis, a roundworm that, although more commonly found in dogs, can infect humans. An international team of scientists has now sequenced the genetic code of T. canis, opening the door for new drugs, vaccines and diagnostic tests applicable to a wide range of roundworms to be developed.

T.canis is also known as dog roundworm and can be fatal for puppies. Humans most often pick it up from man's best friend as it is generally spread via the worms’ eggs in dog feces. In humans, the disease caused by the worms is known as toxocariasis and affects children under ten most generally. Partly, this is because smaller children are more likely than adults to pick things up off the ground and put them in their mouths. Most people are not affected by the larvae, but they can travel to many parts of the body through the bloodstream, including the brain, heart, lungs, liver or eyes. They can, if untreated, damage the retina.

The Center for Disease Control reports that a 1996 study suggested 25 percent of puppies were actually born infected with T. canis and says infection is more common in people living in poverty, with the worm also more prevalent in tropical areas where eggs remain viable in the warm, humid soil. The scientists also note that millions are affected by it in poor parts of the United States alone.

T.canis is not a neglected roundworm. It has been studied quite well but the research team says that this is the first time there has been any investigation of the parasite’s actual molecular biology and that sequencing the genetic code of T. canis will provide useful resources for the future study of other parasitic worms.

"The technological approaches used should be readily applicable to a wide range of other ascaridoid nematodes (roundworms) of major animal and human health importance," Professor Robin Gasser of the Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Melbourne, said. "This pathogen causes widespread outbreaks, predominantly in underprivileged communities and developing countries, so the more we know about these parasites the better equipped we are to combat their deadly effects."

The University of Melbourne led the research, which also included the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS), BGI-Shenzhen, California Institute of Technology and Monash University.

Their findings were published in the journal Nature Communications

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