The newly published genome sequence of the tsetse fly is expected to aid the fight against infectious disease.
The tsetse fly
is the sole insect vector for the human disease African trypanosomiasis
or sleeping sickness, a major public health burden in sub-Saharan Africa. The disease-causing trypanosome parasites go through an essential part of their life-cycle in tsetse flies before being transmitted to humans via the blood when the fly bites them.
The disease is fatal if untreated, and there is no vaccination available. Moreover, there are increasing signs of resistance to current treatments, which also produce unpleasant side-effects.
The flies are similarly involved in the transmission of a related animal disease called Nagana,
which results in huge livestock losses and therefore represents a huge economic burden, estimated at several billion dollars annually.
Exploiting the tsetse fly genome
Sequencing and analysis of the tsetse fly genome by an international research team has revealed many genetic features likely to be involved in disease transmission that could prove to be crucial leads in the hunt for new interventions to interrupt the trypanosome life cycle and prevent disease.
Over 12,000 genes have been identified, including potential targets involved in salivation and blood feeding; pathogen recognition; and sensory functions by which the flies identify hosts.
The genome project will provide a free-to-access resource for researchers, and it is hoped that it will accelerate the development of novel tsetse control strategies.