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Mol Ecol. 2017 Dec;26(23):6524-6538. doi: 10.1111/mec.14271. Epub 2017 Aug 24.

Discovery and genomic analyses of hybridization between divergent lineages of Trypanosoma congolense, causative agent of Animal African Trypanosomiasis.

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Department of Biomedical Sciences, Institute of Tropical Medicine, Antwerp, Belgium.


Hybrid populations and introgressive hybridization remain poorly documented in pathogenic micro-organisms, as such that genetic exchange has been argued to play a minor role in their evolution. Recent work demonstrated the existence of hybrid microsatellite profiles in Trypanosoma congolense, a parasitic protozoan with detrimental effects on livestock productivity in sub-Saharan Africa. Here, we present the first population genomic study of T. congolense, revealing a remarkable number of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), small insertions/deletions (indels) and gene deletions among 56 parasite genomes from ten African countries. One group of parasites from Zambia was particularly diverse, displaying a substantial number of heterozygous SNP and indel sites compared to T. congolense parasites from the nine other sub-Saharan countries. Genomewide 5-kb phylogenetic analyses based on phased SNP data revealed that these parasites were the product of hybridization between phylogenetically distinct T. congolense lineages. Other parasites within the same region in Zambia presented a mosaic of haplotypic ancestry and genetic variability, indicating that hybrid parasites persisted and recombined beyond the initial hybridization event. Our observations challenge traditional views of trypanosome population biology and encourage future research on the role of hybridization in spreading genes for drug resistance, pathogenicity and virulence.


hybrid swarm; meiotic recombination; nagana; outcrossing; parasitic protozoa; population genomics

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