CHAMPAIGN, Ill., June 23 (UPI) — U.S.- and Swiss-led scientists say their sequencing and analysis of the human body louse genome is a major step toward controlling the disease-vector insect.
The project, which involved more than 70 international scientists, was led by Professor Barry Pittendrigh at the University of Illinois; Professor Evgeny Zdobnov at the University of Geneva Medical School and the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics; and Professor Ewen Kirkness at the J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Md.
The researchers said the human body louse (Pediculus humanus humanus) is an obligate human parasite responsible for the transmission of bacteria that cause relapsing fever, trench fever and epidemic typhus. The scientists said their sequencing and comparative analysis of the body louse genome with other sequenced species revealed many features that will enhance science’s understanding of the relationship between disease-vector insects, the pathogens they transmit and affected human hosts.
The human body louse usually lives in clothing, and infestations are associated with wearing unwashed apparel for prolonged periods such as during wartime, natural disasters or the often poor personal hygiene of homeless people or refugees, the scientists said.
As well as irritations from infestations with body lice or the closely related human head lice, the body louse may carry harmful bacteria that cause epidemic typhus and are classified as a bioterrorism agent.
The study is reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.