Antigenic diversity in Theileria parva populations from cattle and African buffalo analysed using long read sequencing



East Coast fever (ECF) in cattle is caused by the tick-borne protozoan Theileria parva, and is transmitted by the three-host tick Rhipicephalus appendiculatus. The African buffalo (Syncerus caffer) is the natural host for T. parva but does not suffer disease, whereas ECF is often fatal in cattle. The genetic relationship between T. parva populations circulating in cattle and buffalo is poorly understood, and has not been studied in sympatric buffalo and cattle. The study aimed to determine the genetic diversity of T. parva populations in cattle and buffalo, in an area where livestock co-exist with buffalo adjacent to the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania.

Three T. parva antigens known to be recognized by CD8+ and CD4+ T cells in immunized cattle, were used to characterize genetic diversity in T. parva cattle (n=149) and buffalo samples (n=22). Long read (Pacbio) sequencing was used to generate full length or near-full length allelic sequences. Patterns of diversity were similar across all three antigens, with allelic diversity being significantly greater in buffalo-derived parasites compared to cattle-derived (e.g. median cattle allele count for Tp1 was 9, compared to 81.5 for buffalo), with very few alleles shared between species (8 of 651 alleles were shared for Tp1). Most alleles were unique to buffalo with a smaller proportion unique to cattle (412 buffalo-unique vs 231 cattle-unique for Tp1). There were indications of genetic substructuring of the population, with one allelic cluster representing alleles found in both cattle and buffalo (including the TpM reference genome allele), and another containing predominantly only alleles deriving from buffalo.

These data illustrate the complex interplay between T. parva populations in buffalo and cattle, revealing the significant genetic diversity in the buffalo T. parva population, the limited sharing of parasite genotypes between the host species, and highlight that a subpopulation of T. parva is maintained by transmission within cattle. The data indicate that fuller understanding of buffalo T. parva population dynamics in particular is needed, as only a comprehensive understanding of the population genetics of T. parva populations will enable assessment of buffalo-derived infection risk in cattle, and how this may impact upon control measures such as vaccination.

Data Citation

Morrison, Liam; Allan, Fiona; Jayaraman, Siddharth. (2021). Antigenic diversity in Theileria parva populations from cattle and African buffalo analysed using long read sequencing, [dataset]. The Roslin Institute. University of Edinburgh.
Date made available1 Jun 2021
PublisherEdinburgh DataShare

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