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Host-endosymbiont Relationships between Filarial Nematode and Wolbachia

Project Leads: Steven Williams

National Center for Genome Analysis Support, Science Community Tools Group, UITS Research Technologies 

Funded by: National Science Foundation grant 1248096 and NIH grant 1R15AI039721-01 

Weam Zaky working in the lab.
Figure 1. Weam Zaky, Dept. of Biological Sciences at Smith College. Photo by Marie Jacques Seignon

Gene expression patterns in closely related organisms can shed some light on the underlying reasons for the differences between these organisms. Weam Zaky and Marie Jacques Seignon are searching for clues to the nature of host-endosymbiont relationships by studying the differences in gene expression between Brugia malayi and nematode species that do not cause disease and are not hosts for Wolbachia.

One feature of the filarial parasitic nematodes is their reliance on a bacteria species, Wolbachi, to function normally. The Wolbachia bacteria infect the nematode, but provide benefits in return. Wolbachia is spread to the offspring by the parent nematodes. If the bacteria are killed off by antibiotics, the worms will eventually die, making this relationship a potential target for controlling the disease. 

The vector responsible for lymphatic filariasis, a disease that manifests in humans as elephantiasis, is a tiny, threadlike worm known as a nematode. Three species of nematode cause this disease, one of which is extensively studied in the lab of Steven Williams at Smith College. This parasite, Brugia malayi, is endemic in regions of China and Central Africa, where the disease it causes leads to disfigurement and incapacitation. The nematode relies on mosquitos to carry its larvae from host to host, making control of spread of the disease very difficult.


Zaky, Weam. "Gene Expression in the Bacterial Endosymbiont of the Filarial Parasite, Brugia malayi.” Celebrating Collaborations. Smith College. Northampton, MA. 17 Apr. 2010. Conference Presentation.


The National Center for Genome Analysis Support enables the biological research community of the US to analyze, understand, and make use of the vast amount of genomic information now available. NCGAS focuses particularly on transcriptome- and genome-level assembly, phylogenetics, metagenomics/transcriptomics, and community genomics.

NSF GSS Codes:

Primary Field: Genetics (610) - Genome Sciences/Genomics 

Secondary Field: Computer Science (401) Computer Systems Analysis