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WormBase ParaSite Launched

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The largest collection of helminth genomic data ever assembled has been published in the new, open-access WormBase ParaSite. Developed jointly by EMBL-EBI and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, with BBSRC funding, this new resource will be a major asset in the fight against parasitic worms, which infect more than one billion people worldwide.

Roundworms, whipworms, hookworms and other helminths produce a disease burden that exceeds that of malaria or tuberculosis. The Helminth Genome Initiative, which has provided much of the data for the WormBase ParaSite, is a global community of researchers dedicated to reducing this disease burden by identifying weaknesses in the worms' genetic code.

The public database, which is funded by BBSRC contains 89 draft genome sequences for a total of 82 helminth species, including 30 published genomes. Of the 59 unpublished genomes, 44 were sequenced at the Sanger Institute as part of the 50 Helminth Genomes project, nine genomes were sequenced at The Genome Institute at Washington University and the remaining six were sequenced by other helminth researchers throughout the world.

WormBase ParaSite combines these data to help researchers identify genetic similarities in different helminth species that share certain traits, such as the ability to invade through human skin. This approach will speed up the difficult, costly search for candidate genes.

"In all, the genomes in WormBase ParaSite contain about 1.5 million genes, and we have used cutting-edge software from the Ensembl project to organise these genes into family trees", says Dr Kevin Howe, project leader for WormBase ParaSite at EMBL-EBI. "These trees show, in high-definition, how the genes are related to each other and how they have evolved. This will allow researchers to study the genetic basis for important similarities and differences between parasitic worms on an unprecedented scale."

Currently, many of the genomes in WormBase ParaSite are early drafts and, accordingly, highly fragmented. Contributions from the helminth research community will gradually fill these gaps as data emerges from new research, building a robust resource for future investigation.

"In human biology, we take things like access to large genomic data sets for granted. This just hasn't been available for helminth research before now," says Dr Paul Kersey, Team Leader at EMBL-EBI and joint Principal Investigator for WormBase ParaSite. "This capacity-building project will catapult the field into a new era of comparative work, boosting funding and research in this crucial area."