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What helminth genomes have taught us about parasite evolution



The genomes of more than 20 helminths have now been sequenced. Here we perform a meta-analysis of all sequenced genomes of nematodes and Platyhelminthes, and attempt to address the question of what are the defining characteristics of helminth genomes. We find that parasitic worms lack systems for surface antigenic variation, instead maintaining infections using their surfaces as the first line of defence against the host immune system, with several expanded gene families of genes associated with the surface and tegument. Parasite excretory/secretory products evolve rapidly, and proteases even more so, with each parasite exhibiting unique modifications of its protease repertoire. Endoparasitic flatworms show striking losses of metabolic capabilities, not matched by nematodes. All helminths do however exhibit an overall reduction in auxiliary metabolism (biogenesis of co-factors and vitamins). Overall, the prevailing pattern is that there are few commonalities between the genomes of independently evolved parasitic worms, with each parasite having undergone specific adaptations for their particular niche.

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* Corresponding author: Parasite Genomics, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Wellcome Trust Genome Campus, Hinxton, Cambridge CB10 1SA, UK. E-mail:


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What helminth genomes have taught us about parasite evolution



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