New Clues About the Blood-Clotting Ability of Leeches
The authors of an article published in the current issue of the Journal of Parasitology collected leeches from natural and aquarium settings in the United States and Canada. The researchers examined the physical characteristics of each leech to determine their species, dissected the leech salivary glands, extracted the RNA and sequenced the genomic material. Next, they identified the salivary gland components by comparing their sequences with those of other leeches and various animals.
The researchers identified the collected leeches as nine species from the Piscicolidae and Ozobranchidae families, which are composed of saltwater species that feed on fish and turtles, respectively. Despite the fact that these leeches have different host preferences, no differences were found in the diversity of anticoagulants. There was an average of 43 anticoagulants in each species, and the researchers identified several anticoagulants that didn't match any sequences and others that had never before been linked to leeches. For example, they found sequences that matched ohanin, which is a protein found in king cobra venom. These results suggest that there is a possible connection between anticoagulants in leeches and snake venom and should be explored further.
Michael Tessler, one of the authors of this article, points out why this study is unique among the literature on anticoagulants: "What I believe makes this paper stand out is the broad scope. Our results highlight that looking at individual species is not a great proxy for family-level anticoagulant diversity and that studies need to take a broader look to fully understand what is going on." Sampling many species and comparing sequences to a broad array of organisms, therefore, could help uncover new information.
The authors also constructed phylogenetic trees, diagrams that show evolutionary relationships, and concluded that leeches may have evolved to have anticoagulants that are beneficial to them. These new leech anticoagulant sequences not only aid in our understanding of the diversity of these compounds, but also provide clues about how leech evolution plays a role in the host-parasite relationship.
Full text of the article "Marine Leech Anticoagulant Diversity and Evolution," Journal of Parasitology, Vol 104, No. 3, 2018, is available at http://www.journalofparasitology.org/doi/full/10.1645/17-64.
About the Journal of Parasitology
The Journal of Parasitology is the official journal of the American Society of Parasitologists (ASP). It is a medium for the publication of new original research, primarily on parasitic animals, and official business of the ASP. The journal is intended for all with interests in basic or applied aspects of general, veterinary, and medical parasitology and epidemiology. For more about the journal or the society, see http://www.journalofparasitology.org.