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Mol Biol Evol. 2008 Oct;25(10):2233-9. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msn171. Epub 2008 Aug 4.

Big bang in the evolution of extant malaria parasites.

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Laboratory of Malariology, International Research Center of Infectious Diseases, Research Institute for Microbial Diseases, Osaka University, Suita, Osaka, Japan.


Malaria parasites (genus Plasmodium) infect all classes of terrestrial vertebrates and display host specificity in their infections. It is therefore assumed that malaria parasites coevolved intimately with their hosts. Here, we propose a novel scenario of malaria parasite-host coevolution. A phylogenetic tree constructed using the malaria parasite mitochondrial genome reveals that the extant primate, rodent, bird, and reptile parasite lineages rapidly diverged from a common ancestor during an evolutionary short time period. This rapid diversification occurred long after the establishment of the primate, rodent, bird, and reptile host lineages, which implies that host-switch events contributed to the rapid diversification of extant malaria parasite lineages. Interestingly, the rapid diversification coincides with the radiation of the mammalian genera, suggesting that adaptive radiation to new mammalian hosts triggered the rapid diversification of extant malaria parasite lineages.

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