Biologists at the University of California, San Diego have discovered that Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt — a bacterium that produces natural protein insecticides that have been used by organic farmers for five decades — can also produce similar natural proteins that kill nematodes.
Photos of rat parasitic nematode, N. brasiliensis, before and after (at right, sick, small worms) application of Bt toxin Cry21A
The discovery could pave the way for the development of an inexpensive and environmentally safe means of controlling the parasitic roundworms that each year destroy billions of dollars in crops, cause debilitating diseases in farm animals and pets, and now infect a quarter of the world’s human population. The scientists’ findings appear in the March 4 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which is making their paper available this week in its early online edition.
Major parasitic roundworm diseases in humans include ascariasis, which affects 1.5 billion people worldwide; hookworm, which infects 1.3 billion people; and elephantiasis, which affects 120 million people. Other parasitic nematodes are major agricultural pests, affecting such economically important crops as corn, soybeans, potatoes and tomatoes. They are also a problem in horses, livestock and pets.
Kim McDonald | UCSD News
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