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Photo above: Assistant Professor Nolwenn M Dheilly in her laboratory 

The microbiome revolution is rapidly changing how we study ecology and evolution, as researchers increasingly realize that much of an organism’s phenotype can be attributed to its metagenome (combined DNA of its resident microorganisms). Parasitic organisms also have their own microbiomes. Can these shape parasite biology and host-parasite interactions?

Assistant Professor Nolwenn M. Dheilly rallied researchers from around the globe to answer this question and together they launched the Parasite Microbiome Project (Dheilly et al., 2017).

Professor Robert Poulin, from the University of Otago, NZ and Assistant Professor Nolwenn Dheilly teamed up to investigate the presence of microbes and their role in two New-Zealand native parasites. They received NZD$890,000 from the Marsden Fund, the most stringent and prestigious national contest of research ideas in New Zealand.

Using two flatworms that parasitize aquatic animals, the team will test for ontogenetic, inter-individual and geographic variation in parasite microbiomes and experimentally quantify their impact on parasite development and, ultimately, on parasite and host phenotype. This research will use a set of powerful tools ranging from metagenomic sequencing to experimental manipulation of microbiomes, to explore how bacteria shape what parasitic worms actually do.

This could have far-reaching implications for our understanding of parasitism and the development of new anti-parasite therapies.

Reference:

Dheilly NM, Bolnick D, Bordenstein S, Brindley PJ, Figueres C, Holmes EC, Martinez Martinez J, Phillips AJ, Poulin R, Rosario K 2017 Parasite Microbiome Project: Systematic investigation of microbiome dynamics within and across parasite-host interactions. mSystems 2(4) http://msystems.asm.org/content/2/4/e00050-17

–Nolwenn Dheilly

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