Same rules determine number of offspring for wildebeest and malaria parasite

January 15th, 2008 - 10:34 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, January 15 (ANI): A research at the University of Edinburgh has shown that the same community ecology principles, which determine how different animal species on the savannah affect each others population sizes through competition for food and hunting by predators, also affect parasite species interacting within the microcosm of a single host.

Dr Andrea Graham, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) David Phillips Fellow, says that the study has important implications for treating many human and animal infections, including malaria and viruses, which rarely occur singularly.

The study suggests that a range of drugs used to treat infection by parasitic worms may alter the effectiveness of anti-malarial and anti-viral treatments by affecting the level of competition among parasite species.

Dr. Graham examined data from a large number of animal studies of co-infection. A microparasite infection like malaria often occurs in people already suffering from other parasites, such as worms.

The researcher observed that these multiple infections affect each other by competing for host nutrients, or by generating an impaired immune system response. The effect is the same as if a large herd of wildebeest started to eat all the available food in an area of the Serengeti.

The study revealed that when a host was suffering from a worm infection, which caused a reduction in a nutrient needed by another parasite in the body at the same time, the second parasite would be reduced in number. Conversely, if a worm infection suppressed the immune response, other parasites would explode in numbers, just as zebras would rapidly breed in the absence of lions.

People and animals do not normally suffer just one parasite infection at a time. By applying the same ideas used in studies of big ecosystems to parasites I have been able to show that we need ecological thinking in order to understand and thus control multiple infections. This approach will help us to most effectively treat diseases such as malaria in a world thats full of co-infected hosts, Dr Graham said.

Researchers have mostly studied and treated viral and bacterial infections in isolation. This is because multiple-species infections were previously thought to be far too complex to be understood. Now Ive shown that we need to think like ecologists to make the problem more controllable, the researcher added.

Professor Nigel Brown, BBSRC Directory of Science and Technology, said: This research focuses on understanding the fundamental biology of parasite infections but has huge practical implications. Ecological principles are here shown to have huge potential in understanding and treating parasitic disease, and shows the importance of interdisciplinary thinking in science and medicine. (ANI)

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