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Parasite Insight May Help Curb Sleeping Sickness

Sleeping sickness — caused by the tsetse fly — is a major threat to humans and livestock in sub-Saharan Africa, and the parasites that cause it are the subjects of ongoing studies. Scientists have now learned that understanding the way the parasites interact with each other may hold a clue to a possible cure, according to Phys Org. So far, research shows that competition between species can make them more able to cause sleeping sickness, and spread it. Researchers hope to find a may to manipulate and turn off the signaling that goes on within the species, and thus stop the disease.

One thing that disease-causing bacteria, viruses and parasites have in common is their propensity to compete within their species and mutate in ways that keep them going, no matter what the obstacle, be it a vaccine or a gene-editing manipulation. In this way, “survival of the fittest” keeps the disease going — and scientists are ever-busy trying to stop the mutating from happening. One such example is chronic wasting disease (CWD) in cervids (mammals belonging to the deer family).

For the longest time, it was thought that CWD was exclusive to animals, but recently the Canadian government warned that CWD may have mutated enough to jump to humans. While this is something that nature is appearing to do on its own, humans are the players and manipulators in something different, called CRISPR, or Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat.

CRISPR gene-editing technology has been taking the medical world by storm, showing potential for treating diseases ranging from cancer to type 2 diabetes, but what’s not being headlined is the fact that researchers have already found numerous unintended mutations that can occur in the process when done in mice, including more than 100 additional deletions and insertions and more than 1,500 single-nucleotide mutations.

And if you think science fiction doesn’t come to life, think again: Scientists are already saying that the notion of genetically modifying humans is no longer a science fiction fantasy. The only question is where will it stop? Will we be editing eye color or IQ levels next? The fact that we have identified the effects of many genes does not mean we've teased out ALL effects of each and every gene. Such ignorance could do a great deal of harm when tinkering with the human genome.
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