Biologists from the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren and KU Leuven, in collaboration with French and Austrian researchers, have discovered and studied around a hundred new species of flatworm parasite never previously recorded in Lake Tanganyika, announced these institutions a statement on Wednesday. The research was published in Scientific Reports in early September.
The researchers compared the DNA of these parasites’ measuring a few tenths of a millimetre long, with the DNA of their fish hosts, with surprising results – a very strong similarity between the two DNAs to the point that they “are almost identical.” It is likely the different species of parasite evolved shortly after speciation of their fish hosts (speciation – formation of new biological species).
“It is extremely rare to see such a marked correlation between the phylogenetic (evolutionary) trees, or DNA, of a parasite and its host,” pointed out researcher Maarten Vanhove. Moreover, parasites are extremely picky when it comes to choosing their hosts: they have been spotted on only a very small number of fish species among the huge variety of possible options.