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Trends Parasitol. 2008 Jan;24(1):24-8. Epub 2007 Nov 26.

Host specificity under molecular and experimental scrutiny.

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Department of Zoology, University of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin 9054, New Zealand. <>


Current research on the patterns and processes underpinning host specificity in parasites goes well beyond field observations. Molecular studies are used increasingly on a range of parasite taxa to uncover levels of specificity not recognized previously. By contrast, the widespread use of experimental infections indicates that new host-parasite combinations are achieved easily in the laboratory, suggesting that parasites are less specific than they often appear. However, molecular and experimental studies of host specificity must be interpreted with caution: the usefulness of molecular studies is sometimes overstated, whereas experiments are often performed in an unnatural context. Here, the prospects offered by both approaches, as well as their limitations, are highlighted.

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