Understanding the genetic makeup of the tropical ram’s horn snail may ultimately save the lives of millions. The freshwater snail, which lives only in tropical climates, is crucial to the lifecycle of a parasitic disease called schistosomiasis, also known as snail fever or bilharzia.
The parasite infects the snail early in its life and leaves only once it is fully developed, at which point it may infect a human through contact in water. According to World Health Organisation statistics, more than 200,000 people die from snail fever every year, with more than 66 million treated for the disease in 2015.
A whole-genome analysis of the snail, published in Nature Communications this week, may lead to the elimination of this disease, says the genome study’s lead researcher Coenraad Adema, of the University of New Mexico. “After malaria, this is the worst parasitic disease on the planet. So being able to do work that may help improve global human health outcomes it is a very important motivation for my research.”