Some recent studies have suggested that parasites actually play an important role in immune function, and speculate that the rise of autoimmune disorders in modern societies may be due to their effectiveness in getting rid of parasites. A scientist at the University of Iowa showed that some worms calmed the immune system, even though when their numbers got too high they caused anemia and other problems. He rationalized that the parasite functions to keep its host healthy for its own sake in a relationship that blurs the line between symbiotic and parasitic.
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The discovery of parasite genes required for feeding pore activity opens up several new research directions. For example, development of antimalarial drugs that target these channels could be accelerated. The NIAID team has already found channel inhibitors that kill malaria parasites. They also are exploring how the feeding channel protein is transported from the parasite to the red blood cell membrane, as preventing this transport may be another way to kill malaria parasites.