Dr. Aaron Best of the Hope College biology faculty contributed to an article published in "Science" that studies the genetic make-up of a common intestinal parasite in the hope of leading to better treatments for the disease it causes and even to better understanding of how human life functions.

The parasite, Giardia lamblia, is found in water systems throughout the world, including in the U.S. It can cause diarrhea, stomach aches and nausea, and in chronic cases leads to malnutrition and poor development in children.

Giardia lamblia changes forms when it goes from being outside the body to residing within a human or animal host. Best's research focused on analyzing the genome sequence for the organism, identifying the genes and proteins that are involved with how it turns its genes on and off - a process called transcription - to change.

Best explained that transcription is a critical function of any organism. He noted that the proteins involved in transcription in Giardia lamblia are different than those used by other life forms such as humans, animals and plants. Understanding the parasite, he said, can offer insights into the way transcription works in humans, and just may provide a better way of battling the disease it causes.

"Looking at the proteins that are involved in this process in Giardia gives us insights into how the complexities of the transcription systems in humans came about," Best said. "I believe that the uniqueness of the transcription system in Giardia also offers novel drug targets for treatment of the disease. Since some of the parts are unique, the drugs that could target these parts could potentially have no effect on the person taking the drug."

The article, "Genomic Minimalism in the Early Diverging Intestinal Parasite Giardia lamblia," was published in the Sept. 28 edition of "Science." Its contributors included researchers from throughout the U.S. as well as Sweden and Switzerland. The lead author is Dr. Hilary G. Morrison of the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, Mass.

Best and his team of Hope student researchers are continuing to work on the project, using the information uncovered by the genome sequence to better understand the transcription system.

Best has been a member of the Hope faculty since 2004. He is an assistant professor of biology and Towsley Research Scholar at Hope.