The young lemur named Eugenius started to get sick. Very sick. He was lethargic, losing weight and suffering from diarrhea. Duke Lemur Center veterinarians soon pinpointed the cause of his illness: Eugenius tested positive for Cryptosporidium, a microscopic intestinal parasite known to affect people, pets, livestock and wildlife worldwide. In humans, thousands of cases of Cryptosporidium are reported in the United States each year, spread primarily through contaminated water.
Now, thanks to advances in next-generation sequencing technology, researchers are getting closer to understanding how these endangered animals fight the infection and detecting the illness early enough to minimize its spread.
In a study published in the May 29, 2014, edition of Molecular Ecology Resources, Duke researchers Peter Larsen, Ryan Campbell and Anne Yoder used high-throughput sequencing on sifaka blood samples to generate sequence data for more than 150,000 different sifaka antibodies — protective molecules that latch on to bacteria, viruses and other foreign invaders in the body and fight them off before they cause infection.
That’s good news for lemurs in their native home of Madagascar, where lemurs live on the brink of extinction, and where human population growth makes contact with people and inter-species exchange of infectious disease increasingly likely.