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Discovery of mating in the major African livestock pathogen Trypanosoma congolense

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  • Liam J Morrison
  • Alison Tweedie
  • Alana Black
  • Gina L Pinchbeck
  • Robert M Christley
  • Andreas Schoenefeld
  • Christiane Hertz-Fowler
  • Annette MacLeod
  • C Michael R Turner
  • Andy Tait

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Original languageEnglish
Article numbere5564
Number of pages8
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2009


The protozoan parasite, Trypanosoma congolense, is one of the most economically important pathogens of livestock in Africa and, through its impact on cattle health and productivity, has a significant effect on human health and well being. Despite the importance of this parasite our knowledge of some of the fundamental biological processes is limited. For example, it is unknown whether mating takes place. In this paper we have taken a population genetics based approach to address this question. The availability of genome sequence of the parasite allowed us to identify polymorphic microsatellite markers, which were used to genotype T. congolense isolates from livestock in a discrete geographical area of The Gambia. The data showed a high level of diversity with a large number of distinct genotypes, but a deficit in heterozygotes. Further analysis identified cryptic genetic subdivision into four sub-populations. In one of these, parasite genotypic diversity could only be explained by the occurrence of frequent mating in T. congolense. These data are completely inconsistent with previous suggestions that the parasite expands asexually in the absence of mating. The discovery of mating in this species of trypanosome has significant consequences for the spread of critical traits, such as drug resistance, as well as for fundamental aspects of the biology and epidemiology of this neglected but economically important pathogen.

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