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Newly discovered plant-like genes in the parasite that causes sleeping sickness could be ideal targets for new drugs against the disease. And because animals do not share these genes, they are less likely to cause side effects, say the researchers.

Sleeping sickness — which affects around half a million people in sub-Saharan Africa each year — is caused by the microbe Trypanosoma brucei. Closely related microbes also cause Chagas' disease (found in South America) and leishmaniasis.

The findings of a team of researchers from Belgium and Brazil suggest that the ancestor of trypanosomes merged with a type of green algae more than a billion years ago. Because the plant-like genes may be crucial for the parasite's survival, these results open up new areas for developing drugs against sleeping sickness.

Link to Nature Science Update news story
Link to abstract of research paper by V. Hannaert et al

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