Three Genetically Distinct Groups of Whipworm Parasites Identified in Uganda, Just One Transferred between Non-Human Primates and Humans

About 600 million people around the world live with whipworms (image). Most are children in the developing world, whose physical and mental development is stunted by these gastrointestinal parasites. The whipworms affect the children’s ability to learn and therefore have a long-term impact on the social and economic situations of some of the world's poorest people. Although the whipworm species Trichuris trichiura is known to inhabit both non-human primates and humans, little is known about the parasite. Indeed, until a recent study by Ria Ghai, a doctoral student in biology at McGill University in Canada, it was widely assumed that a single species was capable of infecting both primates and humans. But Ghai has discovered that there are three genetically distinct groups of whipworms - and only one of the three appears to be transmissible between humans and non-human primates. It is important information for public health officers around the world. Ghai's research, published on October 23, 2014 in the open-access journal PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, was done in the rainforest of Kibale National Park in southwestern Uganda, which has one of the largest concentrations of primates in the world. The trees are alive with monkeys, and include endangered species such as the red colobus monkey, the eastern chimpanzee, and the rare l'hoest's monkey, as well as more common species, like baboons. In all, there are 13 different species of primates within the park. But the park is an island of forest within one of the most densely populated agricultural regions in East Africa, with a population of 300-600 people per square kilometer. And there is increasing human pressure on limited land and growing interaction between the humans and the non-human primates.
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