Cuiabá, Brazil — Health and nutrition experts worldwide are hailing the discovery in the Amazon Rainforest of a new species of parasitic worms that thrive on animal adipose tissue, saying they could potentially revolutionize the fight against obesity in humans.
The worms were discovered by chance last week in Mato Grosso near Brazil’s Bolivian border during a routine forest expedition led by British ecologist Gwen Castley. Castley said she stumbled upon the carcass of a monkey swarmed by the peculiar-looking worms while on a hunt for a spot to relieve herself.
The worms’ bright pink tint was the first thing that tipped Castley off to their uniqueness. Upon closer inspection, Castley noticed that the worms were only working on areas of the carcass where there were deposits of adipose tissue, commonly known as fat. Further tests supported Castley’s initial assessment of the worms, which will be officially named Gwenus cacaris.
According to Castley, Gwenus cacaris have an unusual life cycle: they appear to gorge themselves to a certain satiation point, “rest” for a short while, and then go back to eating the fat until it’s all consumed. Once the fat is gone, they die out. A few living samples are being kept alive by feeding them a steady diet of liposuction by-products from plastic surgery clinics in São Paulo.
Castley admitted they are still scratching their heads.
“We don’t know a whole lot about these worms yet. We don’t know how they reproduce. We don’t know if they’re actually larvae of something else,” she said. “But we do know they love adipose tissue. It seems eating fat is all they want to do.”
The World Health Organization has already expressed interest in expanding the continuing research on the worms to include their potential application in the ongoing fight against obesity in humans. WHO chief Margaret Chan is optimistic the worms can be successfully and safely implanted inside humans with weight issues.
“Obviously we need to do more research on this,” said Chan. “Overall, I am confident these worms will drastically change the lives of millions of obese individuals.”
Castley shares Chan’s optimism, but cautioned that “it will probably take a while before the fat-eating worms can be utilized that way.” Like most living things, the worms produce waste matter, which in this case is methanol, a highly toxic substance that could cause blindness in small doses and death in larger ones. Theoretically, unleashing the worms into a 650-pound human being will produce seven gallons of methanol, which would undoubtedly be lethal.
“Until we figure out how to neutralize the methanol, we can’t let these worms loose just yet,” said Castley. “But we’ll figure it out someday.”