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By NewsDesk  @infectiousdiseasenews

A parasite, largely thought to be asexual, has been shown to reproduce sexually after scientists uncover clues hidden in its genomic code.

Trypanosoma cruzi /CDC

Trypanosoma cruzi is the parasite responsible for Chagas Disease, found in Latin America. Around eight million people are currently infected by the disease, which can cause irreversible damage to the heart and digestive tract.

Chagas disease is mostly spread by insects known as Triatominae, or “kissing bugs”, but can also be transmitted by food contaminated with T. cruzi. While some medication can cure patients if given early enough, once the disease is established it is less effective.

In new research, led by the University of Glasgow and published today in Nature Communications, scientists have sequenced the whole genome of the single-celled parasite Trypanosoma cruzi and resolved 30 years of heated debate to show that it can indeed be sexually active.

In order to study how the disease spreads, as well as find potential new treatments, scientists at the University of Glasgow knew it was important to understand how the parasite reproduced.

Sex in biological organisms is important for many different reasons, and most organisms do engage in sexual activity of one sort or another. By studying a large group of parasites found in a small area in Ecuador, and sequencing the whole genome of those they found, the researchers were able to spot the tell-tale signatures sexual activity leaves in the genes.

Read more at University of Glasgow