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Mol Biochem Parasitol. 2003 Oct;131(2):83-91.

Real-time quantitative PCR for analysis of genetically mixed infections of malaria parasites: technique validation and applications.

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Division of Biological Sciences, Institute of Cell, Animal and Population Biology, Ashworth Laboratories, University of Edinburgh, The King's Buildings, West Mains Road, Edinburgh EH9 3JT, UK.


A technique that can distinguish and quantify genetically different malaria parasite clones in a mixed infection reliably and with speed and accuracy would be very useful for researchers. Many current methods of genotyping and quantification fall down on a number of aspects relating to their ease of use, sensitivity, cost, reproducibility and, not least, accuracy. Here we report the development and validation of a method that offers several advantages in terms of cost, speed and accuracy over conventional PCR or antibody-based methods. Using real-time quantitative PCR (RTQ-PCR) with allele-specific primers, we have accurately quantified the relative proportions of clones present in laboratory prepared ring-stage mixtures of two genetically distinct clones of the rodent malaria parasite Plasmodium chabaudi chabaudi. Accurate and reproducible measurement of the amount of genomic DNA representing each clone in a mixture was achieved over 100-fold range, corresponding to 0.074% parasitised erythrocytes at the lower end. To demonstrate the potential utility of this method, we include an example of the type of application it could be used for. In this case, we studied the growth rate dynamics of mixed-clone infections of P. chabaudi using an avirulent/virulent clone combination (AS (PYR) and AJ) or two clones with similar growth rate profiles (AQ and AJ). The modification of the technique described here should enable researchers to quickly extract accurate and reliable data from in-depth studies covering broad areas of interest, such as analyses of clone-specific responses to drugs, vaccines or other selection pressures in malaria or other parasite species that also contain highly polymorphic DNA sequences.

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