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Worm That Lived in Man’s Brain for Four Years Has Genome Mapped

Researchers have sequenced the genome of a rare brain-infesting worm after removing it from a British man's head — where it had been living for at least four years. Spirometra erinaceieuropaei, as the parasitic worm is called, has only been reported 300 times since its discovery in 1953. While surely gruesome for the victim, the discovery was welcomed by scientists as an opportunity to study the worm's lifecycle and genes, and to to detect and treat cases in the future. "For this uncharted group of tapeworms, this is the first genome to be sequenced and has allowed us to make some predictions about the likely activity of known drugs," said the Sanger Institute's Matt Berriman, co-author of the study.

The worm causes seizures, memory loss and headaches as it burrows through the brain — in this case, it had traveled about two full inches over its period of habitation. Its unusually large and repetitive genome, a third the size of a human's, house a great number of genes aimed at host invasion and defense against rejection. The 1-centimeter-long worm was successfully removed by surgeons in 2012 and the patient is now doing well, researchers said. No one knows for sure from where the worm originates or how the man got infected, but you may want to stay away from one potential culprit: raw reptile and amphibian meat.

Brain-to-brain technology research underway 0:25

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—Devin Coldewey