There are many species of lice that bug people all over the world. These tiny critters are a major irritation as they feed off the blood of their hosts. Many lice prevention remedies have been created to deal with the puny pests, but the next generation of weapons could be the most powerful.
The lice that have a craving for human blood are generally known as sucking lice, and they are head lice, body lice, and public lice. How do you get rid of lice? is one of the most often asked questions in schools, locker rooms, and doctors' surgeries. There are plenty of lice remedies such as rosemary oil, lice combs, homemade treatments, and shampoos. And soon therapeutics based on genome research will be targeted against these lousy parasites. But the research is not without its complications and mysteries.
Knowing how our enemies function is the basis of many molecular based treatments. An understanding of which lice genes create which proteins can lead to the development of medicines to block their action. The genome of the body lice (Pediculus humanus) has already been sequenced and the knowledge gleaned from these studies will help to develop ways of both treating and preventing lice infestations from taking place. It does not mean that new remedies are just around the corner; at best it offers new hope of more effective treatments.
As this research has been continuing scientists have hit upon something of a puzzle. They have also studied the mitochondrial DNA sequence of body lice and found it to be extremely unusual. The mitochondrial genome in most animal cells is usually a single circular chromosome, but in body lice it is fragmented into 18 different parts that have been termed mini-chromosomes. Further studies have also revealed that these mitochondrial mini-chromosomes are also present in pubic lice and head lice. What does this unusual finding mean?
It is undoubtedly of great interest to find such an unusual mitochondrial DNA arrangement in these animal cells. It has previously been reported in plant cells and protists.
In terms of lice remedies, the news could be either good or bad. Does the fragmentation make remedy research much harder or easier? The 18 mini-chromosomes must confer some advantage on the lice otherwise they wouldn't have evolved to be like that. Perhaps they could be targets for research designed to stop lice infestations? In the meantime current lice remedies will have to do. Some are effective, but knowledge from genetics could provide us with ever more innovative and powerful remedies against all lice infestations.