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The National Science Foundation's Project on Lice

What lice reveal about the history of human migration, a new nonchemical invention for families, and high res images

June 28, 2010


With funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Reed and his team study the evolutionary history of humans and the parasites that have accompanied people from around the time Homo sapiens left Africa nearly 100,000 years ago.

For decades, scientists have been studying human migration patterns based on fossil evidence and molecular data like DNA sequences. Studying lice gives researchers one more tool. By collecting lice from around the world and studying their DNA, Reed has been able to aid in reconstructing the past.

"We find these "aha" moments where we see that, for some reason the parasites are telling us something different about their shared evolutionary history than what we've learned already from their hosts," says Reed.

Practical, as well as historical, knowledge can also be gained from Reed's research. "One thing we can learn from lice is better ways to treat head lice. It's a very, very common problem because these head lice are resistant to the shampoos that we use. The more that we can learn and teach the public about the evolution of resistance to insecticidal shampoos or antibiotics, or whatever, I think the better we can treat different diseases that affect humans," he explains.

Read the full article at http://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/science_nation/index.jsp

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