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Blood-Sucking Genome

Researchers have generated a draft genome of the European medicinal leech, Hirudo medicinalis.

A team led by the American Museum of Natural History's Mark Siddall sequenced an H. medicinalis leech captured from a pond in Slovenia to a nearly 150X coverage using the 10X Genomics Chromium platform. As they write in Scientific Reports this week, the researchers then identified through Blast searches and phylogentic analyses 15 putative anticoagulant-proteins as well as other genes encoding proteins that also affect the clotting process. Leeches have been used throughout history as a medical tool to balance patients' "humors," and H. verbana and H. medicinalis continue to be used in wound care due to their anticoagulant abilities.

"Incredibly, the leech uses 15 different proteins known to negatively affect the blood-clotting mechanism in vertebrates, and 17 other proteins that are likely also part of the same anti-clotting process," first author Sebastian Kvist from the Royal Ontario Museum and the University of Toronto says in a statement.

The researchers additionally note that as more leeches are sequenced, further studies into how blood feeding arose will be possible.

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