|The worm infects the brain and functioning of the sandhopper.|
Researchers at University of Otago studied the bodies of sandhoppers and earwig, both types of insects found near water. They were looking to find how insects infected by a parasitic worm were affected by the parasite.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection of the United States, a parasite is an organism that lives in or on the host and feeds off of the host. Parasites are contracted through eating or drinking. The CDC describes three different kinds of parasites: protozoans, helminths, and ectoparasites. In this case, the parasite in question is a helminth, or a multicellular worm that lays eggs within the host.
The researchers found that the protein structure of the infected worms was changed, but the function of the proteins did not change compared to the proteins of uninfected worms. They speculated that the protein change lead to negative effects of the neurons. They speculated that this change affected how memories were formed and stored. Thus, the parasites made the insects drown themselves in nearby bodies of water. These insects otherwise avoided water. The parasite eggs depended on water to hatch.
This research is interesting and pertains to genetics because in order to change the protein structure and function, the parasites must alter the order of base pairs on the hosts DNA. This change may be small but has large impacts.