Viking poop helps researchers study a parasitic worm

To fight a parasitic worm that has been infecting humans for millions of years, scientists have taken poop samples from old latrines dating back to Viking times.

A parasitic worm studied thanks to Viking excrement
© Cavan Images GETTY_IMAGES
A parasitic worm studied thanks to Viking excrement

Scientists are often imagined as researchers, working in sterile laboratories or with modern machines capable of accelerating particles to the speed of light. Except that some of them are out in the field and have to get their hands dirty to advance science and fight diseases. This is the case, for example, of this team of researchers, who went in search of traces of parasitic worms in Viking latrines in order to identify and eradicate them.

Discover our latest podcast

Trichuris trichiura, a worm that has been with us for ages

'Trichuris trichiura' is the name of this sticky worm friend that has been inhabiting our digestive system for thousands of years. For at least 55,000 years, this worm has been using us as an alternative, for its life cycle. According to Science Alert:

Its eggs are transmitted through human faeces; they can be transmitted via the faecal-oral route when contaminated faeces enter the soil or water and are then ingested by another host

And so the cycle can be repeated over and over again. Generally, theinfection does not pose a major health problem and may even have a positive effect on the gut microbiota, although 'In people who are malnourished or have a weakened immune system, [the infection] can lead to serious illness.'

So where do the Vikings fit into all this?

Today, it is estimated that more than 500 million people are infected with Trichuris trichiura, with infections occurring mainly in countries with poor sanitary conditions. In order to better confront the genome of this parasitic worm, scientists took samples of its DNA from (modern) humans, primates and also from fossilized eggs found in Viking latrines, dating back 2,500 years.

This work allowed them to shed light on how the worm spread around the world, and to compare the worm's ancient genomes with the most recent. as per EurekAlert Dr Christian Kapel of the University of Copenhagen said:

Our mapping of the [worm] and its genetic development facilitates the design of more effective anti-viral drugs that can be used to prevent the spread of this parasite in the poorest parts of the world

This article was translated from Gentside FR.

Read more:

Poo transplants will soon be offered to treat this superbug, here's how they work

Poo donation: Your poo could help save lives of patients with rare disease - Red Cross

Freezing your poop could save your life, researchers claims

Freezing your poop could save your life, researchers claims Freezing your poop could save your life, researchers claims