Washington, Sep 17 (ANI): Researchers at UC Santa Barbara have identified a caste of genetically identical "warrior worms"-members of a parasitic fluke species that invades the California horn snail.
These worms form colonies in snails. Reproductive worms and soldier worms cooperate to grow and defend their colony within the snail.
These two types of individuals look and behave differently, explained first author Ryan F. Hechinger, assistant research biologist with UCSB's Marine Science Institute.
The warrior worms attack other invasive parasites trying to invade the snail.
"We have discovered flatworms in colonies with vicious, killer morphs defending the colony. These flukes have a strongly developed social organization, much like some insects, mammals and birds," said Armand M. Kuris, professor of zoology, in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology.
The tiny warrior worms are only a couple of millimeters in length, yet they are powerful thanks to relatively large mouths.
Kuris calls the worms parasitic "body snatchers," because they castrate the snail, making it unable to reproduce.
"The fluke castes described by our research team are genetically identical. They are clones," said Hechinger.
Many other species of flukes probably have colonies of clones with castes, said Kuris.
These colonies also act like an immune system, defending the body of the snail from other fluke infections, said second author Alan C. Wood, a marine science lab manager at UCSB.
The soldiers behave like white blood cells; they attack other unrelated flukes, biting and killing them.
These flukes with soldier castes may also have a biomedical application.
They might be used in the biological control of major human parasitic diseases such as blood flukes.
The findings are reported in the early online version of the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. (ANI)