Nematodes, parasitic invertebrates that control the behavior of their hosts, manipulating them using stolen genes. This mechanism allows them to trick the victim’s nervous system into drowning. Studying this phenomenon may give us greater insight into overall evolutionary processes.
Nematodes are parasitic organisms related to nematodes and have a very complex life cycle. Parasites are born in water and use aquatic insects to reach dry land. There, they are eaten by ground insects, such as cockroaches or praying mantises. The parasites begin to grow inside the hosts, and when they are ready to reproduce, they take control of them and force them to jump into the water. The hosts molt and the nematodes leave their bodies to complete their life cycle.
Previous studies conducted on this group of invertebrates have shown that they do not possess the complete set of genes that characterize all animals. As the findings of scientists from the RIKEN Biosystems Dynamics Research Center (BDR) in Japan have shown, nematodes (in Latin: Nematomorpha) They don’t need their own genes for “mind control” – they just need other people’s genes.
To control insect behavior, nematodes flood their prey’s nervous system with a large number of molecules that mimic those produced by their own body. To verify the source of this unusual ability, the authors of a study published a few days ago in the journal “Current Biology” analyzed gene expression in the body of a parasite from the family Ropes Before, during and after mantis manipulation.
As the researchers noted, the expression of more than 4,000 nematode genes changed during host control. On the other hand, the activity of the praying mantis genes did not change compared to healthy individuals, which showed that the manipulation was on the part of the parasite. The researchers searched the protein database to investigate the origins of the genes used before Ropes To control mantiss.
What is striking is that many of the nematode’s genes, which may play an important role in controlling their hosts, were very similar to those of the praying mantis. This indicates that they were acquired through horizontal gene transfer, explained Tabby Mishina, lead author of the study.
Transport and development
Horizontal gene transfer is a biological process in which genes are transferred from one organism to another, but not through reproduction. They can have major evolutionary consequences, enabling organisms to rapidly acquire new genes or functions, which may help them adapt to new environments or lifestyles.
This hypothesis is confirmed by the presence of more than 1,400 genes Ropes They are very similar to those found in praying mantises, but were absent or significantly changed in nematodes that infect other insects. The researchers concluded that these genes accumulated in nematodes over many years, from generation to generation.
Horizontal gene transfer is one of the main ways in which antibiotic-resistant bacteria evolve. Studying this process can give us greater insight into this phenomenon, as well as into overall evolutionary processes, Mishina said.
“Using this model, we hope to identify the mechanisms underlying horizontal gene transfer and deepen our understanding of evolutionary adaptation,” the author added.
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