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Flies are not all bad

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December 08, 2017

There’s no need to panic just yet about the disease-carrying potential of flies, an Australian ecologist has cautioned.

There’s no need to panic just yet about the disease-carrying potential of flies, an Australian ecologist has cautioned.

A recent study of the microbiome of 116 houseflies and blowflies from three different continents, published in the journal Scientific Reports, found in some cases these flies carried hundreds of different species of bacteria — many of which are harmful to humans.

Novel genomic and computational methods used for the study allowed the team an unprecedented look at the microbial community carried by flies.

According to the study, the legs and wings of the flies showed the highest microbial load.

The potential for flies to carry diseases may have been overlooked and may speed up the transmission of pathogens in outbreak situations, the researchers warned.

But Marcel Klaassen at Deakin University in Melbourne, whose research focuses on disease ecology, says he’s not alarmed.

‘‘There’s a lot of these microbiome studies coming out, it’s just phenomenal the diversity of microbes and viruses that we ourselves contain in our guts and our body and the same of course for flies,’’ Professor Klaassen said.

But when it comes to disease transmission, there are a lot of other things that need to be considered. One of those things is the disease ‘dose’ a fly carries.

‘‘It’s fairly unlikely that one fly will carry the infectious dose on one of their legs or wing,’’ Prof Klaassen said.

In fact, the pesky creatures could be used as a weapon in the fight against superbugs.

‘‘Don’t forget, fly maggots are actually used for treatment of nasty bacterial infections where antibiotics don’t work any more,’’ Prof Klaassen said.

The US researchers agreed that flies may not be all bad, suggesting they could be used as living drones which can act as an early-warning system for diseases.

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