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Int J Parasitol. 2009 Oct;39(12):1305-17. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpara.2009.04.001. Epub 2009 Apr 22.

Flow cytometric analysis and microsatellite genotyping reveal extensive DNA content variation in Trypanosoma cruzi populations and expose contrasts between natural and experimental hybrids.

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Pathogen Molecular Biology Unit, Department of Infectious and Tropical Diseases, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Keppel Street, London, WC1E 7HT, UK.


Trypanosoma cruzi exhibits remarkable genetic heterogeneity. This is evident at the nucleotide level but also structurally, in the form of karyotypic variation and DNA content differences between strains. Although natural populations of T. cruzi are predominantly clonal, hybrid lineages (TcIId and TcIIe) have been identified and hybridisation has been demonstrated in vitro, raising the possibility that genetic exchange may continue to shape the evolution of this pathogen. The mechanism of genetic exchange identified in the laboratory is unusual, apparently involving fusion of diploid parents followed by genome erosion. We investigated DNA content diversity in natural populations of T. cruzi in the context of its genetic subdivisions by using flow cytometric analysis and multilocus microsatellite genotyping to determine the relative DNA content and estimate the ploidy of 54 cloned isolates. The maximum difference observed was 47.5% between strain Tu18 cl2 (TcIIb) and strain C8 cl1 (TcI), which we estimated to be equivalent to approximately 73 Mb of DNA. Large DNA content differences were identified within and between discrete typing units (DTUs). In particular, the mean DNA content of TcI strains was significantly less than that for TcII strains (P<0.001). Comparisons of hybrid DTUs TcIId/IIe with corresponding parental DTUs TcIIb/IIc indicated that natural hybrids are predominantly diploid. We also measured the relative DNA content of six in vitro-generated TcI hybrid clones and their parents. In contrast to TcIId/IIe hybrid strains these experimental hybrids comprised populations of sub-tetraploid organisms with mean DNA contents 1.65-1.72 times higher than the parental organisms. The DNA contents of both parents and hybrids were shown to be relatively stable after passage through a mammalian host, heat shock or nutritional stress. The results are discussed in the context of hybridisation mechanisms in both natural and in vitro settings.

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