The draft nuclear genome sequence of the snail-transmitted, dimorphic, parasitic, platyhelminth Schistosoma mansoni revealed eight genes encoding proteins that contain the Universal Stress Protein (USP) domain. Schistosoma mansoni is a causative agent of human schistosomiasis, a severe and debilitating Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) of poverty, which is endemic in at least 76 countries. The availability of the genome sequences of Schistosoma species presents opportunities for bioinformatics and genomics analyses of associated gene families that could be targets for understanding schistosomiasis ecology, intervention, prevention and control. Proteins with the USP domain are known to provide bacteria, archaea, fungi, protists and plants with the ability to respond to diverse environmental stresses. In this research investigation, the functional annotations of the USP genes and predicted nucleotide and protein sequences were initially verified. Subsequently, sequence clusters and distinctive features of the sequences were determined. A total of twelve ligand binding sites were predicted based on alignment to the ATP-binding universal stress protein from Methanocaldococcus jannaschii. In addition, six USP sequences showed the presence of ATP-binding motif residues indicating that they may be regulated by ATP. Public domain gene expression data and RT-PCR assays confirmed that all the
S. mansoni USP genes were transcribed in at least one of the developmental life cycle stages of the helminth. Six of these genes were up-regulated in the miracidium, a free-swimming stage that is critical for transmission to the snail intermediate host. It is possible that during the intra-snail stages, S. mansoni gene transcripts for universal stress proteins are low abundant and are induced to perform specialized functions triggered by environmental stressors such as oxidative stress due to hydrogen peroxide that is present in the snail hemocytes. This report serves to catalyze the formation of a network of researchers to understand the function and regulation of the universal stress proteins encoded in genomes of schistosomes and their snail intermediate hosts.
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