No biological association is of greater medical importance than parasitism. Parasites plague humanity and are at the root cause of many diseases especially in the tropics, the need for a dedicated branch of Zoology to study these exciting but disturbing polyphyletic animal groups.
Parasitology is the study of parasites, their hosts, and the relationship between them. It is an applied field of biology dedicated to the study of the biology, ecology and relationships which parasites are involved in with other organisms known as the host.
Branches of Parasitology
Depending on the specific bias, there are different fields of parasitology and some of these include medical parsitology, veterinary parasitology, structural parasitology, quantitative parasitology, parasite ecology, conservation of parasites, malariology, helminthology parasite immunology etc.
This is the science that deals with organisms living in the human body (the host) and the medical significance of host-parasite relationship. It’s also concerned with the various methods of their diagnosis, treatment and finally their prevention and control.
The study of parasites that cause economic losses in agriculture or aquaculture operations, or which infect companion animals. This is becoming particularly important as emerging diseases threatens global food security. In Nigeria, a number of studies have been conducted in fish parasitology and other vertebrates such as Lizards and Cats with Zoonotic potential.
This is the study of structures of proteins from parasites. Determination of parasitic protein structures may help to better understand how these proteins function differently from homologous proteins in humans. In addition, protein structures may inform the process of drug discovery.
Parasites exhibit an aggregated distribution among host individuals, thus the majority of parasites live in the minority of hosts. This feature forces parasitologists to use advanced biostatistical methodologies.
Parasites can provide information about host population ecology. In fisheries biology, for example, parasite communities can be used to distinguish distinct populations of the same fish species co-inhabiting a region. Additionally, parasites possess a variety of specialized traits and life-history strategies that enable them to colonize hosts. Understanding these aspects of parasite ecology, of interest in their own right, can illuminate parasite-avoidance strategies employed by host.
This is an aspect of parasitology which focuses mainly on the study of Protozon parasite, Plasmodium, its species, their biology, pathogenicity, epidemiology and management of the parasitic infection.
“Helminth” means worms. Hence as the name implies it is the study of vermiform parasites ranging from trematodes to Cestodans, Nematodans and leeches.
This is an aspect which deals with parasite survival in host as well as host susceptibility. This aspect is particularly important when formulating concentrations of chemotherapeutic agents and vaccines.
As a biological discipline, the scope of parasitology is not determined by the organism or environment in question, but by their way of life. This means it forms a synthesis of other disciplines, and draws on techniques from fields such as cellbiology, bioinformatics, biochemistry, molecular biology, immunology, genetics, evolution and ecology.
Thus parasitology covers a wide range of topics which centre around parasites, their taxonomic positions, their structural and physiological biology, life cycle patterns, ecology, pathenogenicity, diagnosis of infection as well as management with chemotherapy and other contemporary techniques.