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Fish parasite found to ‘prevent heavy metal intake’

Eating tilapia infected with the microscopic parasite known as the thorny-headed worm may actually help prevent heavy metal accumulation in the body.

According to the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), research conducted by the Institute of Biological Sciences of the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) said fish infected with Acanthocephalans (Acanthogyrus species)—also known as thorny-headed worm—have much lower level of heavy metals than those not infected.

They found that these parasites actually accumulate heavy metal concentration in their host’s tissues, especially in the gills and intestine.

Parasite, Tilapia, Laguna, Manila BUlletin, DOST

View in high magnification image of the thorny-headed worm (Acanthocephalan) parasite | Manila Bulletin

Researchers detected the presence of the thorny-headed worm in tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus), Parachromis managuensisVieja species and Red Nile tilapia.

The study showed the Acanthocephalan infection has no significant effect on the fishes’ health, except for their size or weight.

“Smaller tilapia may not be so bad. Some may have parasites, but these parasites may just save the consumers from possible heavy metal intake. Besides, the parasites stay in those parts—gills and intestine—which the consumers most likely discard,” said Dr. Vachel Gay V. Paller, National Research Council of the Philippines (NRCP) biologist.

Parasite, Tilapia, Laguna, Manila BUlletin, DOST

Tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) | Manila Bulletin

The NCRP-funded study was conducted in the seven lakes of San Pablo, Laguna— Bunot, Calibato, Mohicap, Palakpakin, Pandin, Sampaloc and Yambo—with the Palakpakin lake having the greatest concentration of Acanthogyrus species.

Heavy metals polluting the said lakes come from vehicles, fish cages, and untreated wastes from hospitals, homes, commercial and industrial establishments, and pesticides.

The study aims to help fish farmers understand and control the Acanthocephalan infection among fishes in the lakes.