"So, naturalists observe, a flea has smaller fleas that on him prey; and these have smaller still to bite ’em; and so proceed ad infinitum."
- Jonathan Swift

June 14, 2011

Trypanosoma irwini

Today's parasite is about as Aussie as they come - Trypanosoma irwini - a blood parasite named in honour of the late Steve "Crocodile Hunter" Irwin. What's more, this parasite infects an iconic Australian host, none other than the Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus). While the vector host for T. irwini is currently unknown, it is likely that this parasite features a life-cycle broadly similar to other trypanosomes we have featured on this blog - that is alternating sexual and asexual stages in a vector host and a vertebrate host. Trypanosoma irwini is by no mean the only unique Trypanosoma found in Australian. Scientists have been describing many novel species of Trypanosoma from the marsupials of Australia, and no doubt there are many, many more waiting to be discovered.

In addition to T. irwini, the Koala is also infected by two other species of Trypanosoma. While on its own, T. irwini seems to be pretty benign, if it gets mixed up with the other Trypanosoma species or other infections such as chlamydia or the retrovirus which causes koala AIDS syndrome, it can lead to disease in its host. Like many other parasites, the pathogenecity of T. irwini is not so straightforward, and may only manifest itself under certain conditions.

Photo from McInnes et al. (2009)


McInnes, L.M., Gillett, A., Ryan, U.M., Austen, J., Campbell, R.S.F., Hanger, J. and Reid, S.A. (2009) Tryapnosoma irwini n. sp. (Sarcomastigophora: Trypanosomatidae) from the koala (Phascolarctos cinereus). Parasitology 136: 875-885.

McInnes, L.M., Gillett, A.,Hanger, J., Reid, S.A. and Ryan, U.M. (2011) The potential impact of native Australian trypanosome infections on the health of koala (Phascolarctos cinereus). Parasitology 138: 873-883

June 4, 2011

Gnathia auresmaculosa

The harmfulness of parasites to their host is not always so straightforward, there are often many factors which contribute to the pathology of an infection. The parasite we are looking at today is Gnathia auresmaculosa - a type of blood-sucking crustacean with an interesting life cycle (which you can read about in this post from last year). These little gnathiids are like ticks of the sea, clinging onto passing fish and gorging themselves on blood before dropping off to continue developing. For adult fish, a few gnathiid here and there is probably not a big deal, but for growing juveniles, that is another matter.

Settlement is a critical transitional stage for coral reef fishes, and that is also when they are most vulnerable to parasites like G. auresmaculosa. A recent study by the lab group of Dr. Alexandra Grutter revealed just how costly these ticks of the sea can be to juvenile fishes. Dr. Grutter and her colleagues found that juvenile damselfish which have been fed on by just one of those little blood-suckers exhibit significantly decreased swimming ability, far higher oxygen consumption rate, and are about half as likely to survive than uninfected fishes.

So if you happen to find yourself on a beautiful tropical reef, take a moment to think about all the little baby fishes which are swimming for their lives through the gauntlet of gnathiids - they never mentioned that in Finding Nemo!

Grutter, A.S., Crean, A.J., Curtis, L.M., Kuris, A.M., Warner, R.R. and McCormick, M.I. (2011) Indirect effects of an ectoparasite reduce successful establishment of a damselfish at settlement. Functional Ecology 25: 586-594