Genes as Parasites
Parasites exist not only in the plant and animal kingdoms, they are also a part of us. Our genome contains myriad short stretches of DNA that propagate at the genome’s expense. For this reason, these transposons, as they are called, are also referred to as parasitic DNA. Oliver Weichenrieder from the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen wants to shed light on the processes by which transposons are copied – not only because they can cause disease, but also because they may be an important engine of evolution.
Admittedly, the research subject isn’t particularly appetizing: Strongyloides stercoralis – small parasitic worms that live in their host’s intestines and have the potential to cause severe problems. Nevertheless, Adrian Streit from the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen is fascinated by this threadworm. It has a unique life cycle, and to this day, no one really understands why.