Did you know that drug resistance doesn’t just occur in bacteria?
It also happens in nematodes; worms that live in the intestines of farm animals.
It’s estimated that over five billion dollars a year are lost due to parasitic nematodes -
and they are quickly becoming resistant to many major drugs due to irresponsible usage.
Nematode parasites in farm animals have been a major economic drain throughout all of human history. Only relatively recently have humans developed effective drugs against these nematodes that have infected our farm animals for so long. However, with the irresponsible usage of these drugs comes a new problem. Many of these intestinal worm species have been gaining resistance to anthelmintic drugs in many parts of the world.
The 2018 IGEM Uppsala, Sweden team has taken it upon themselves to tackle this issue by engineering a worm buster. In case you’ve never heard of it, iGEM is an international competition in genetic engineering that pits the world’s universities against each other in a contest to see who can make the best and coolest student sourced biotechnology innovations. Dealing with these small blood worms won’t be easy, and our team is run entirely by students who have never done something on this scale before. On top of being a potentially groundbreaking project, this is a fantastic learning opportunity for our team.
Our project mainly deals with nematodes that infect horses. Horses represent a significant investment in time, money, and effort, not to mention being worth a great deal to racing and show organizations. One of the most common parasites that infect horses are from a certain family of blood worm called cyathostomins. These intestinal worms can cause severe diarrhea and even death when they are present in large amounts. Animals ingest these worms while grazing, and the worms themselves can live in grass for more than half a year!
There is currently no reliable method to diagnose the amount of worms in horse intestines besides physically counting their eggs in horse manure, and they are rapidly becoming resistant to anthelmintic drugs due to over-usage. Resistance developed in this manner can cause further harm down the line, resulting in more severe infections and a higher mortality rate.
In addition to small blood worms, which we just talked about, large blood worms are also a significant threat to our precious ungulates. They, like small blood worms, live in the grass but when they’re eaten they enter the animal’s bloodstream early on in their life cycle. Later, they move on into the intestines as adults, causing coli, dehydration, and possibly death. Because of this, they generally can’t be targeted by drugs at all, and can cause major losses in flocks of sheep.
Above: One of our incredibly photogenic project managers
How will we achieve this?
We have a two pronged plan for our project. One is to engineer E. coli to give off a detectable signal when they’re near a worm, and the other is to engineer these same E. coli to give off a signal that attracts worms towards them. We plan to try this method out for both large blood worms, which we would try to detect in grass samples, and small blood worms, which would be detected while still inside the horse. A simple test with our designed worm buster would allow farm animal owners to better decide when to medicate their animals, reducing anthelmintic usage, or to know if a certain field is infected or not, and therefore let their animals graze somewhere else.
While the project mainly deals with parasites in horses, it is also applicable towards nematodes that infect other farm animals like sheep as well.
In order to engineer our worm busters, we’ll need to use various techniques, including something called transcriptome analysis, which isn’t exactly cheap. We also need other laboratory supplies, some luck, and contributions for travel expenses to the giant conference in Boston where we will present our project in front of the judges. Therefore, we’re calling on you to help the iGEM 2018 Uppsala team to fulfill our goals this year and make this project a success. Anything you can donate is appreciated and will be put to good use.
Who are we? Meet the team!
We are a total of 23 very dedicated students at various stages in our education; a mix of bachelors and masters level students. Our team is composed of individuals from various programmes including biotechnology, chemical engineering, nanotechnology, and lastly IT and computer science.
Front row from the right: Erik Olby, Leonie Stadler, Elin Ramström, Alexandra Umprecht, Björn Ancker Persson, Matilda Brink, Mikael Svensson, Melissa Jöe, Julia Giertta Adler, Sofia Iggström, Ruta Upite & Malin Åslund.
Back row from the right: Markus Johnson, Roger Giro, Jonas Nielsen, Ricardo Danza Madera, Niclas Fahlander, Oliver Mantovani, Sebastian Persson, Joseph Caponi, Edvin von Euler, Anton Björninen & Janis Kronbergs
Join the force to bust these parasites!
Please leave a comment if you want to be attributed in our project for your donation!
If you have questions or want to know more, don't hesitate to contact us or visit our website.
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First, the parasite research group managed to produce a working microfluidic chip to separate small and large strongyles!
Secondly, another research group succeded to purify their improved version of UnaG attached to a His-tag!
Both big steps forward in our project.
Nevertheless, since we have reached fall and managed to raise enough money for research and materials we would like to inform you that the money from the go fund me page will be used for another very important aspect of iGEM, team representation. This includes e.g. team T-shirts. If you in anyway object to this, please notify us and we will make sure to not spend your funded money to that purpose.
At last, we would like to thank all of you for your generous and kind donations that has enabled our project to reach a higher level of quality.
Team Uppsala 2018
PS. You can reach us through the mail: projectleader@iGEMUppsala.se