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Mol Biol Evol. 2019 May 11. pii: msz116. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msz116. [Epub ahead of print]

Human Migration and the Spread of the Nematode Parasite Wuchereria bancrofti.

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Eck Institute for Global Health, University of Notre Dame.
Department of Biological Sciences, University of Notre Dame.
Head Filariasis Unit, NIAID-Mali ICER, University of Bamako, Bamako.
NIAID, National Institutes of Health.
Global Health and Disease, Case Western Reserve University.
Institute for Genome Sciences, University of Maryland School of Medicine.
Department of Biology, Case Western Reserve University.


The human disease lymphatic filariasis causes the debilitating effects of elephantiasis and hydrocele. Lymphatic filariasis currently affects the lives of 90 million people in 52 countries. There are three nematodes that cause lymphatic filariasis, Brugia malayi, B. timori, and Wuchereria bancrofti, but 90% of all cases of lymphatic filariasis are caused solely by W. bancrofti (Wb). Here we use population genomics to reconstruct the probable route and timing of migration of Wb strains that currently infect Africa, Haiti, and Papua New Guinea (PNG). We used selective whole genome amplification to sequence 42 whole genomes of single Wb worms from populations in Haiti, Mali, Kenya, and PNG. Our results are consistent with a hypothesis of an Island Southeast Asia or East Asian origin of Wb. Our demographic models support divergence times that correlate with the migration of human populations. We hypothesize that PNG was infected at two separate times, first by the Melanesians and later by the migrating Austronesians. The migrating Austronesians also likely introduced Wb to Madagascar where later migrations spread it to continental Africa. From Africa, Wb spread to the New World during the transatlantic slave trade. Genome scans identified 17 genes that were highly differentiated among Wb populations. Among these are genes associated with human immune suppression, insecticide sensitivity, and proposed drug targets. Identifying the distribution of genetic diversity in Wb populations and selection forces acting on the genome will build a foundation to test future hypotheses and help predict response to current eradication efforts.


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