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PLoS Genet. 2013;9(7):e1003672. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1003672. Epub 2013 Jul 25.

The mating competence of geographically diverse Leishmania major strains in their natural and unnatural sand fly vectors.

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Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, United States of America.


Invertebrate stages of Leishmania are capable of genetic exchange during their extracellular growth and development in the sand fly vector. Here we explore two variables: the ability of diverse L. major strains from across its natural range to undergo mating in pairwise tests; and the timing of the appearance of hybrids and their developmental stage associations within both natural (Phlebotomus duboscqi) and unnatural (Lutzomyia longipalpis) sand fly vectors. Following co-infection of flies with parental lines bearing independent drug markers, doubly-drug resistant hybrid progeny were selected, from which 96 clonal lines were analyzed for DNA content and genotyped for parent alleles at 4-6 unlinked nuclear loci as well as the maxicircle DNA. As seen previously, the majority of hybrids showed '2n' DNA contents, but with a significant number of '3n' and one '4n' offspring. In the natural vector, 97% of the nuclear loci showed both parental alleles; however, 3% (4/150) showed only one parental allele. In the unnatural vector, the frequency of uniparental inheritance rose to 10% (27/275). We attribute this to loss of heterozygosity after mating, most likely arising from aneuploidy which is both common and temporally variable in Leishmania. As seen previously, only uniparental inheritance of maxicircle kDNA was observed. Hybrids were recovered at similar efficiencies in all pairwise crosses tested, suggesting that L. major lacks detectable 'mating types' that limit free genetic exchange. In the natural vector, comparisons of the timing of hybrid formation with the presence of developmental stages suggest nectomonads as the most likely sexually competent stage, with hybrids emerging well before the first appearance of metacyclic promastigotes. These studies provide an important perspective on the prevalence of genetic exchange in natural populations of L. major and a guide for experimental studies to understand the biology of mating.

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