Systematics Success Stories
Discovered through phylogenetic and cospeciation analyses that the occurrence of Taenia tapeworms in humans pre-dates the advent of agriculture and animal husbandry.
Problem: Taenia spp. remain the most significant tapeworm pathogens in humans, cause significant losses to animal production globally, and are a re-emergent problem for US agriculture. Measures for intervention, control and diagnostics continue to be hindered by an incomplete understanding of parasite biology and phylogeny.
Solution: Phylogenetic studies of Taenia have begun to resolve the relationships of these pathogens and provide a context for understanding the distribution of these parasites in humans. In collaboration with scientists at the University of Colorado and The Natural History Museum, London, cospeciation analyses showed that Taenia had twice colonized hominids in Africa prior to the origins of modern humans; later humans were the source for parasites that now circulate in synanthropic cycles with our primary food animals. This typical parasite fauna in humans is far older than previously considered, and indicates a prolonged association humans and their characteristic food-borne pathogens.
Impact: New insights about the evolution and biology of Taenia in humans are the foundations for development of effective strategies for diagnostics, epidemiology and successful intervention. These findings clearly indicate that ecological association developed by our hominid ancestors have direct impacts and consequences for the distribution of pathogens and parasites in modern humans.(Contact- Eric P. Hoberg, Animal Parasitic Diseases Laboratory)