Lice genes `decoded`

Washington: They make you itch and are
hard to find, but scientists now claim to have sequenced the
body louse genome, an achievement which they claim will yield
new insights into louse -- and human -- biology and evolution.

"The body louse genome is the smallest known genome of
any insect," said Professor Barry Pittendrigh of University of
Illinois, who co-ordinated an international team who analysed
the sequence.

Added team member Dr Stephen Cameron: "Lice have a
simple life either in your hair or on your body with blood as
their food. So most of the genes responsible for sensing their
environment have been reduced.

"One gene in particular is responsible for normal cell
maintenance and in the body louse this gene is missing. This
can give valuable insights into diseases and human ageing."

John Clark, of the University of Massachusetts at
Amherst, and Si Hyeock Lee, of Seoul National University, led
the analysis of the enzymes of the louse and found that lice
have the smallest number of detoxification enzymes observed in
any insect.

The body louse`s pareddown list of detoxifying enzymes
makes it an attractive organism for the study of resistance to
insecticides or other types of chemical defense, Professor
Pittendrigh said.


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