Thousands of Tiny Worms Found for the First Time in Utah’s Great Salt Lake [Study]

Thousands of tiny worms were found for the first time in Utah’s Great Salt Lake, where the nematodes were initially suspected of living. However, previous attempts to find the roundworms did not yield in much success but only until now. The discovery of the newly identified nematodes was made by researchers from the University of Utah and their findings were revealed in a new study published earlier this week.

Nematodes have been described by scientists as belonging to any major group of long cylinder-shaped worms. They are mostly known for being parasites in animals or plants that live in soil or water. Globally, these roundworms can be found in every continent on Earth, including Antarctica. Their natural habitats include freshwater and marine environments, including swamps and the oceans.

Nematodes in Great Salt Lake

Thousands of Tiny Worms Found for the First Time in Utah's Great Salt Lake [Study]
(Photo : Photo by Michael Hart on Unsplash)

In their study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the Utah researchers presented the novel free-living nematodes in Great Salt Lake associated with microbialites. The discovery confirms that even these roundworms can live in extreme environments, in this case, the benthic zone of the lake.

This body of water was previously thought to only support two multi-cellular animals: brine fly larvae and brine shrimp.

The research paper published on Wednesday, March 13, reported the habitat, presence, and microbial interactions of Great Salt Lake nematodes never seen before. The research team discovered the strange critters in the aftermath of unsuccessful search attempts of the tiny worms in the sediments of the lake bed. Since nematodes can live in different aquatic or marine environments, all it takes likely is to dig further.

That is what happened after the failed search for the worms, as the significant find was made when University of Utah professor Michael Werner and post-doctoral researcher Julie Jung further examined the lakebed that resembles a reef. In the paper, the authors noted that nematode diversity decreases “dramatically” with respect to a salinity gradient from a freshwater river into the south part of the Great Salt Lake.

Also Read: Invasive Hammerhead Flatworms Spotted in Texas, Officials Push Locals to Eradicate Annelids at Home

Can Nematodes Cause Disease in Humans?

The phylum Nematoda consists of up to 500,000 species and is the second largest phylum across the animal kingdom. Among the many species of nematodes, some members of this phylum are capable of causing harm to people.

According to medical experts, nematode infections can cause some of the following diseases in humans:

  •  Ascariasis
  •  Trichuriasis
  •  Hookworm
  •  Enterobiasis
  •  Strongyloidiasis
  •  Filariasis
  •  Trichinosis
  •  Dirofilariasis
  •  Angiostrongyliasis (rat lungworm disease)

Recent data shows that approximately 60 species of roundworms serve as parasites to humans, according to the website Medscape. In a previous study published in the International Journal of Experimental Pathology, researchers found that gastrointestinal nematode infections affect 50% of the whole human population across the globe; causing great morbidity and hundreds of thousands of fatalities.

Related Article: Blood-Hungry Parasitic Sea Lampreys Invade Great Lakes, May Cause Millions of Damages

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