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viernes, 23 de octubre 2020
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Ivandarioi, a Flatworm Discovered in Colombia

by Jennifer Restrepo de la Pava


Weird little pink bug. Temnocephala ivandarioi. It has five tentacles in the anterior region, a great sucker in the posterior part of the body and a reproductive organ structure unique in its shape called "cirrus", which allowed the species to be identified as yet undescribed for science. Image credit: Carolina Lenis.

Temnocephala ivandarioi was discovered in the branchial cavities of a freshwater crab that is endemic in the Amazon region of Colombia. This peculiar guest is a flatworm known as platyhelminth, of the genus Temnocephala.

It was given its name in honor of Universidad de Antioquia Professor Ivan Dario Velez, who contributed to the understanding of tropical diseases in Colombia. T. ivandarioi was a chance discovery made by Carolina Lenis, Coordinator of the Helminthology Unit (Unidad de Helmintologia) of the Study and Control of Tropical Diseases Program (Programa de Estudio y Control de Enfermedades Tropicales).

Accidental Science

It all started with Carolina's doctoral thesis, related to a parasite that affects the lungs of mammals that consume crab. Parasites, such as protozoans, helminths and ectoparasites, live in other organisms and feed on them. "I found a temnocephalan while looking for a helminth. It was really unexpected. All animals are associated with, at least, one helminth parasite. However, there are others that are not parasites, and we don't know whether they are native, whether they arrived as invasive species or as a plague, or whether they are associated to endangered species", highlighted the PhD Human and Animal Parasitologist.

According to the scientist, there are three groups of flatworms: parasites, planarians, which are aquatic and can regenerate completely from a small part of the body, and commensals, which are always linked to another animal species that is usually more evolutionarily advanced. The new worm described above belongs to the last group.

Commensals live on or inside other animals without causing them harm or disease. Some come to the surface to feed, but they never leave their host. They find shelter and protection for their eggs in it.

"It is a very interesting, ancient and still unknown group. We know that temnocephalans, from an evolutionary point of view, are living fossils of helminths. Since they are commensals, it is believed that they precede parasites, that that host-specificity is the evidence of a transition from a commensal life to a parasite life, in biological terms", added Carolina Lenis.

She also explained, "temnocephalans are predators and could be playing a very important role in the health of their hosts. They may control parasites. We have seen that, when crabs host certain helminths, they usually don't have temnocephalans and, if there are temnocephalans, some helminths are absent", stated the biologist.

Flatworms inhabit fluvial, marine and wet terrestrial environments. There are about 20,000 species. Most of this clan is composed of parasites and hermaphrodites. They have no circulatory or respiratory system, and many have no digestive system, either. The genus Temnocephala has been found in hosts such as mollusks, insects, turtles or crustaceans—freshwater crabs and prawns—and 38 species have been described between Mexico and Chile.

A Good Host

Crab. Valdivia serrata. Decapoda, Trichodactylidae, male river crab found in the municipality of Leticia, in the Amazon region of Colombia. Image credit: Carolina Lenis.

Researchers determined that the flatworm discovered does not affect human health. Apart from describing the species, they suggested a classification for it.

The first described specimens of T. ivandarioi are in the university's Colombian Helminth Collection (Colección Colombiana de Helmintos), an open-to-the-public repository of the country's helminthological biodiversity that harbors over 80 species of helminths from Amazonas, Antioquia, Bolivar, Choco, Magdalena, Meta, Cordoba, Sucre and Valle del Cauca.

"We have the only laboratory in Colombia intended for the thremmatology of parasites with medical importance. These findings offer us basic information that is collected to better understand how nature works and apply it to science", highlighted Pecet Director Ivan Dario Velez Bernal.

Velez added that these academic findings could be used as input in the future to solve problems related to public health.

Doctors Imelda Velez, Freddy Ruiz and Carlos Muskus, from Universidad de Antioquia, and Antonio Marcilla, from Universidad de Valencia, Spain, participated in this study. The scientific article was published in the journal Zookeys in march 2020.

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