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Hot genome news: The body louse genome is sequenced, and Ozzy Osbourne's is about to be

June 22, 2010 | 12:10 pm

Louse You may have heard: Scientists have sequenced the entire genome of the body louse. The findings of the Body Louse Genome Consortium, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also included ones for a bacterium that lives inside the louse's body — a bonus genome.

No huge revelations so far, but the scientists do note that the insect contains fewer genes for sensing and detoxifying environmental chemicals than free-living insects, which makes sense, because it must live on its host and thus the environments it encounters are likely to be fewer and less varied. If anything, researchers were surprised by how few genes the parasite had lost, because it's common for parasites to have stripped-down functions.

Body lice are wingless, and, in accord with that, the body louse has lost a gene that's known to be important in wing formation in other insects.

The body louse is dependent on the bacterium that lives inside it, Candidatus Riesia pediculicola. The bacterium dies, the louse dies. The scientists were happy to see that the bacterium doesn't have antibiotic-resistance genes and suggest that targeting it might be a good way to help fight the body louse. 

Fun fact: Human body lice probably evolved from head lice after we started to wear clothing. Not-so-fun fact: Body lice (unlike head lice, which don't do that much harm beyond grossing us out) are the main vectors for typhus and trench fever, among other diseases, and have thus helped kill millions down through human history.

Ozzy Of course, sequenced genomes are ten a penny these days. One to watch out for: Ozzy Osbourne's genome. Here's a fun blog item at Technology News about his decision to pay for the service and an article the blog refers to that was published in the Toronto Star. Ozzy reportedly hopes that it may help explain why he's held up so well despite decades of drug and alcohol use and the famous bat-biting incident.

Finally, we note that Ozzy now writes a health column for Britain's Sunday Times. The newspaper's June 3 announcement:

"It’s no joke. Ozzy Osbourne really is our new health columnist. Given his colourful medical history, The Black Sabbath star considers himself an expert on all things medical — as anyone who’s abused his body for 40 years and been declared dead twice — has the right to. Now, he wants you to learn from his mistakes."

Competition! That'll keep us on our toes.

— Rosie Mestel

Photo credits: Body louse: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ozzy: Kevin Winter / Getty Images

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