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The first new species of medical leaks discovered more than 40 years ago



A team of scientists led by Anna Phillips, a parasitologist at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC, has uncovered a previously unrecognized species of medical bloodstream that has been around the nation's capital for decades. The new species, called "Macrobdella mimicus", was identified from specimens collected in southern Maryland, just under 50 miles from the National Museum of Natural History.

Macrobdella mimicus is the first medicinal (human blood-sucking) lesson described in North America in over 40 years, according to Phillips. It is native to freshwater wetlands from Georgia to New York.

Phillips and her colleagues collected numerous orange, olive and green blood from a 2015 field expedition. But they thought the leeks belong to a different species called Macrobdella decora, which is commonly found throughout the northern United States. But DNA sequencing showed significant differences.

Macrobdella mimicus is native to freshwater wetlands from Georgia to New York. Image credit: Smithsonian
Macrobdella mimicus is native to freshwater wetlands from Georgia to New York. Image credit: Smithsonian

When their equipment was analyzed by their DNA, it turned out that some of them were different. After that, the scientists took a closer look at these individuals, and found that the new lips had numerous reproductive pores along the bottom of their bodies, called gonopores and accessory pores, which were in a different position from those on the Macrobdella decora.

Researchers then returned to the field, and found more lips with that same pore. Also, their DNA was more closely related to the lessons they found in Maryland than to anything familiar with science.

Phillips then browsed through the Smithsonian's collections to analyze dozens more North American lips; she found this everywhere. Museum specimens have proven that Macrobdella mimicus has been here for decades, with territory extending from northern Georgia to New York.

While many people doubt lip service, Phillips respects them as valuable members of the ecosystem. In the 1700s and 1800s, doctors believed that licking helped remove bad blood from a patient's body. In modern medicine, they are used to improve blood flow after plastic surgery, rubbing and finger recoveries.

"Such discovery clearly shows how much diversity remains there to be discovered and documented, even under the noses of scientists"Phillips said.

The team described the new species in a paper published in the Journal of Parasitology.


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