Of course the obvious question is what kind of problems we should expect from the loss of this millions of year old relationship and of course immune dysfunctions are the kind of things we should expect and indeed started materializing at the same times and places.
The Plight of the Parasite
By: Holly Tuten
Issue date: 1/30/09
Pubic lice are going extinct. This may seem like a good thing, but what if researchers could develop a novel blood-thinning agent from these blood-sucking pests? In late 2004, Brugia malayi, a causative agent of elephantiasis, was the first parasitic nematode to have its entire genome sequenced. Understanding the cloak of invisibility this worm uses to dodge the immune system may revolutionize organ transplants. Other human parasites could provide treatments for asthma, anaphylaxis, inflammatory bowel disease and arthritis. And the "Hygiene hypothesis" states that allergic diseases (e.g., eczema) are less common in children exposed to parasites in their environment. Although no plans are in place to deliberately infect people, the anti-inflammatory arsenals of parasites are being investigated. In order to better understand how to manipulate human physiology, researchers study the manipulative masterminds, human parasites.
Parasites can also help improve environmental health and animal studies. Intestinal worms of fish may be used in the near future to monitor heavy metal pollution in waterways, because they are natural accumulators of these toxins. It has been proposed that parasites form the basis of complex food webs, although they are often overlooked in biodiversity studies. Dr. Armand Kuris and his colleagues reported in the journal Nature this year that in total, parasite mass in estuaries exceeds the mass of all estuarine birds. Even mosquitoes are an embedded link in many food chains. Mosquito larvae are found in almost all water bodies. These larvae are eaten by other insects, amphibians and fish. Adult mosquitoes are eaten by insects, bats and birds. Male mosquitoes drink nectar instead of blood and pollinate plants in the process. Parasites can also help us understand species distributions. Dr. Patricia Parker and coworkers at the University of Missouri used bird lice to determine when birds differentially colonized nine Galapagos islands. For hosts that are difficult to study in captivity or track in the wild, they can lend a helping hand. Some worms with multiple life-stages in different hosts were used as "biological tags" in studies on fish migration. And zoological parks are using assassin bugs as living syringes to get blood samples from animals. They may also open a door to the past. The aforementioned pubic louse has provided researchers with clues to an extinct species of early humans. The endangered right whale has a parasitic crustacean that provided a genetic snapshot of the whale's evolutionary history.
Many animals host more than one parasite. Parasites as a group are especially vulnerable to extinction, because most are exquisitely specialized. If their host goes extinct, they will, too. There are currently an estimated 6,300 species of parasites and affiliate species that are "co-endangered." Some parasites may even precede their host to extinction due to conservation efforts which inadvertently exclude them. When the last California condors were taken into captivity in 1987, their lice went extinct. Now the world can never know what was lost.