Helminths, Protozoa and More Helminths – a Research Trifecta!

Helminths, helminths and more helminths here at The Biome Buzz today.

Study #1:  from the European Journal of Neurology which shows that infection with Toxoplasmosis (an infection with the parasite, Toxoplasma gondii)  has a protective effect against the development of multiple sclerosis (MS).  That is, those who have had T.gondii  in the past have a whopping 32% less chance of ever developing MS.[i]

As you know from prior posts like this one, we already know that exposure to helminths has a massive anti-inflammatory effect and those with MS show fewer new, or the enlargement of already existing, brain lesions.  T.gondii is the world’s most common parasite.  It can be transmitted by eating under cooked contaminated meat, from mother to fetus, or through exposure to infected cat feces (“outdoor” cats can pick up the parasite through exposure to infected animals, etc.) and it is generally considered harmless.  Most people do not develop any side effects.  (That said, as with any “invading” organism, some will develop symptoms (flu-like symptoms is most common), and those with weakened immune systems may develop serious complications.)[ii]

Researchers in Italy and France worked together to evaluate the effects of the T.gondii by reviewing all the published studies through November of 2020.  7 were selected covering a total of 751 MS patients and 1282 people controls (without MS).  The results clearly showed that those who had been infected with T.gondii were 32% less likely to develop MS than those with no history of infection.  Yet another example of the immune modulating effects of helminths.

Study #2:  it essentially yet another that shows that biome depletion is a major factor affecting biome diversity in the industrialized world.  Researchers looked at stool samples from 219 volunteers in Madagascar.[iii]   Their main goal was to describe the microbiomes of individuals in a developing country and to “…identity potential associations between bacterial taxa and parasites colonizing the digestive tract…”  What they discovered should surprise no one:  “The gut microbiome of Malagasy strongly differs from that of Westernized countries.”  The main drivers of the differences were asymptomatic protozoa as well as dietary habits.  Westernized countries’ microbiota can be clustered into three or so enterotypes:  Bacteroides, Prevotella and Ruminococcus.  In those in Madagascar, of these three, only Ruminococcus was a major presence.  In their case, the other two major types were Escherichia/Shigella and Clostrium.  High protein and animal fat dies have been associated with higher abundance of Bacteroides, but since few in Madagascar ate such a diet they showed low levels.  Anyway, the really important take-away message from this research:  the main finding “…is the robust link between the cumulative number of colonizing parasites and the increase gut microbial diversity and richness.”  Their results, in many ways, parallel those found by Dr. Loke:  see here if interested.

Paper #3:  Finally, I’ll wrap up on just a fun and K-RAAAZZY note.  I’d actually posted something about this awhile back so this is sort of an update. On September 14th, the company Charles River Analytics announced that DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) has given them a large grant to research novel ways of protecting soldiers from chemical and biological threats. How?  By exploring how helminths can secrete chemicals that specifically target chemical and biological threats including neurotoxins and microbial pathogens.  Major universities such as Baylor, George Washington, James Cook in Australia (where hookworm have been studied to treat celiac disease for many years  now), the University of California at Irvine, and Washington University in St. Louis are involved in the work. The premise:  “We are thinking of parasitic helminths as internal molecular foundries, producing and delivering drugs within and throughout the body continuously, or on demand, if we so choose…”[iv]

Like…whoa.  Go helminths.


[i] https://multiplesclerosisnewstoday.com/news-posts/2021/09/10/infection-t-gondii-parasite-protect-against-multiple-sclerosis/

[ii] https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/toxoplasmosis/symptoms-causes/syc-20356249

[iii] Mondot S, Poirier P, Abou-Bacar A, et al. Parasites and diet as main drivers of the Malagasy gut microbiome richness and function. Sci Rep. 2021;11(1):17630. Published 2021 Sep 3. doi:10.1038/s41598-021-96967-4

[iv] https://globalbiodefense.com/2021/10/02/protective-biosystems-parasites-to-fight-chemical-and-biological-weapons/

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