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Trends Parasitol. 2013 Aug;29(8):363-9. doi: 10.1016/ Epub 2013 May 3.

How can we determine the molecular clock of malaria parasites?

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Department of Biology, Molecular Ecology, and Evolution Laboratory, Lund University, Ecology Building, S-223 62 Lund, Sweden.


The association of contemporary hosts and their parasites might reflect either cospeciation or more recent shifts among existing hosts. Cospeciation implies that lineages of hosts and parasites diverge in parallel at the same time, but testing this prediction requires time-calibrated phylogenies, which are particularly difficult to obtain in organisms that leave few fossils. It has successively become clear that host shifts have been frequent in the evolutionary history of malaria parasites, but dating these host shifts cannot be done without calibrated phylogenies. Hence, it remains unresolved how long contemporary hosts and vectors have been coevolving with their malaria parasites. This review addresses conflicting rate estimates of molecular evolution and suggests research directions to aid dating diversification events in malaria parasites.


Plasmodium; apicomplexa; birds; cospeciation; host shifts; mitochondrial DNA; rate calibration

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