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      “Sexual” Population Structure and Genetics of the Malaria Agent P. falciparum

      1 , 2 , 1 , 1 , *
      PLoS ONE
      Public Library of Science

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          The population genetics and structure of P. falciparum determine the rate at which malaria evolves in response to interventions such as drugs and vaccines. This has been the source of considerable recent controversy, but here we demonstrate the organism to be essentially sexual, in an area of moderately high transmission in the Lower Shire Valley, Malawi. Seven thousand mosquitoes were collected and dissected, and genetic data were obtained on 190 oocysts from 56 infected midguts. The oocysts were genotyped at three microsatellite loci and the MSP1 locus. Selfing rate was estimated as 50% and there was significant genotypic linkage disequilibrium (LD) in the pooled oocysts. A more appropriate analysis searching for genotypic LD in outcrossed oocysts and/or haplotypic LD in the selfed oocysts found no evidence for LD, indicating that the population was effectively sexual. Inbreeding estimates at MSP1 were higher than at the microsatellites, possibly indicative of immune action against MSP1, but the effect was confounded by the probable presence of null mutations. Mating appeared to occur at random in mosquitoes and evidence regarding whether malaria clones in the same host were related (presumably through simultaneous inoculation in the same mosquito bite) was ambiguous. This is the most detailed genetic analysis yet of P. falciparum sexual stages, and shows P. falciparum to be a sexual organism whose genomes are in linkage equilibrium, which acts to slow the emergence of drug resistance and vaccine insensitivity, extending the likely useful therapeutic lifespan of drugs and vaccines.

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          Most cited references56

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          High sensitivity of detection of human malaria parasites by the use of nested polymerase chain reaction.

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            Microsatellite markers reveal a spectrum of population structures in the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum.

            Multilocus genotyping of microbial pathogens has revealed a range of population structures, with some bacteria showing extensive recombination and others showing almost complete clonality. The population structure of the protozoan parasite Plasmodium falciparum has been harder to evaluate, since most studies have used a limited number of antigen-encoding loci that are known to be under strong selection. We describe length variation at 12 microsatellite loci in 465 infections collected from 9 locations worldwide. These data reveal dramatic differences in parasite population structure in different locations. Strong linkage disequilibrium (LD) was observed in six of nine populations. Significant LD occurred in all locations with prevalence <1% and in only two of five of the populations from regions with higher transmission intensities. Where present, LD results largely from the presence of identical multilocus genotypes within populations, suggesting high levels of self-fertilization in populations with low levels of transmission. We also observed dramatic variation in diversity and geographical differentiation in different regions. Mean heterozygosities in South American countries (0.3-0.4) were less than half those observed in African locations (0. 76-0.8), with intermediate heterozygosities in the Southeast Asia/Pacific samples (0.51-0.65). Furthermore, variation was distributed among locations in South America (F:(ST) = 0.364) and within locations in Africa (F:(ST) = 0.007). The intraspecific patterns of diversity and genetic differentiation observed in P. falciparum are strikingly similar to those seen in interspecific comparisons of plants and animals with differing levels of outcrossing, suggesting that similar processes may be involved. The differences observed may also reflect the recent colonization of non-African populations from an African source, and the relative influences of epidemiology and population history are difficult to disentangle. These data reveal a range of population structures within a single pathogen species and suggest intimate links between patterns of epidemiology and genetic structure in this organism.
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              How clonal are bacteria?

              Data from multilocus enzyme electrophoresis of bacterial populations were analyzed using a statistical test designed to detect associations between genes at different loci. Some species (e.g., Salmonella) were found to be clonal at all levels of analysis. At the other extreme, Neisseria gonorrhoeae is panmictic, with random association between loci. Two intermediate types of population structure were also found. Neisseria meningitidis displays what we have called an "epidemic" structure. There is significant association between loci, but this arises only because of the recent, explosive, increase in particular electrophoretic types; when this effect is eliminated the population is found to be effectively panmictic. In contrast, linkage disequilibrium in a population of Rhizobium meliloti exists because the sample consisted of two genetically isolated divisions, often fixed for different alleles: within each division association between loci was almost random. The method of analysis is appropriate whenever there is doubt about the extent of genetic recombination between members of a population. To illustrate this we analyzed data on protozoan parasites and again found panmictic, epidemic, and clonal population structures.

                Author and article information

                Role: Academic Editor
                PLoS ONE
                PLoS ONE
                Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
                18 July 2007
                : 2
                : 7
                : e613
                [1 ]Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Liverpool, United Kingdom
                [2 ]Malawi-Liverpool Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Programme, Blantyre, Malawi
                Mahidol University, Thailand
                Author notes
                * To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: hastings@ 123456liverpool.ac.uk

                Conceived and designed the experiments: IH PM TM. Performed the experiments: PM TM. Analyzed the data: IH TM. Wrote the paper: IH TM.

                Mzilahowa et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
                : 5 February 2007
                : 11 June 2007
                Page count
                Pages: 8
                Research Article
                Genetics and Genomics
                Infectious Diseases/Epidemiology and Control of Infectious Diseases
                Infectious Diseases/Protozoal Infections



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