Scientists decipher the genome of one of world's most despised pests


In what may be the first step in discovering how to eradicate African sleeping sickness, scientists decipher the dreaded tsetse fly's genome. The decade-long effort involved more than 149 scientists from 78 research institutions in 18 countries. It's genome contains ~12K genes and 366M letters of genetic code.

The fly carries the parasitic microorganism, Trypanosoma brucei, that causes Trypanosomiasis in 36 sub-Saharan countries. It transmits the pathogen in its saliva when it bites a victim. The disease is fatal if untreated.

The disease also afflicts cattle with a disease called Nagana.

The bug's biology is unusual. It gives birth to live young, it nourishes larvae inside the uterus with a milk-like substance, it finds the colors blue and black irresistible and it feeds exclusively on blood.

Researchers hope to identify a tsetse-specific reproductive inhibitor that has no mammalian toxicity.

The tsetse fly has been in mammals' ointment for at least 34M years.

Sleeping sickness afflicts far fewer people than malaria and dengue.

In 2012 there were 7,216 recorded cases according to WHO, but the incidence is most certainly under-reported.

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