Genetic research has revealed that commercially available medicinal leeches used around the world in biomedical research and postoperative care have been misclassified for centuries. Until now, the leeches were assumed to be the species Hirudo medicinalis, but new research reveals they are actually a closely related but genetically distinct species, Hirudo verbana. The study also shows that wild European medicinal leeches are at least three distinct species, not one. "This raises the tantalizing prospect of three times the number of anticoagulants, and three times as many biomedically important developments in areas like protease inhibitors," said Mark Siddall of the American Museum of Natural History, who led the research team. "However, it will also require a better effort to conserve these much-maligned animals, in a way that takes into account their impressive diversity."
In findings that some might find reminiscent of science fiction, scientists at the Scripps Research Institute have shown for the first time that humans and plants share a common pathogen recognition pathway as part of their innate immune systems. The data could help shed fresh light on how pathogen recognition proteins function and the role they play in certain chronic inflammatory diseases.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced the completion and availability of its five-year status review of the West Indian manatee, a federally-listed species protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This review includes both the Florida and Antillean subspecies of manatee. After reviewing all of the best scientific and commercially available information and data, Service biologists concluded that the West Indian manatee no longer fits the ESA definition of endangered and made a recommendation to reclassify the West Indian manatee to threatened.