In DepthInfectious Diseases

Hybridization may give some parasites a leg up

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Science  31 Aug 2018:
Vol. 361, Issue 6405, pp. 832-833
DOI: 10.1126/science.361.6405.832

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Infecting an estimated 230 million people, schistosomiasis is the world's most widespread parasitic disease after malaria. But temperate latitudes were thought to be spared, until researchers documented an outbreak on the French island of Corsica in 2014. Scientists found that a local freshwater snail was serving as the intermediate host that's essential to the flatworms' complicated life cycle. The river is still infested: At least 120 people have become infected. And the disease is turning up elsewhere on Corsica. The culprit is no ordinary schistosome parasite, but a hybrid of two separate species that appears to be better than both parent species at infecting both the snails and its unfortunate mammalian hosts. Such hybrids, discovered in other parasitic species as well, could widen a parasite's range of host mammals, complicating efforts to control it.