Evolution of multigene families and single copy genes in Plasmodium spp

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The complex life cycle and widespread range of infection of Plasmodium parasites, the causal agent of malaria in humans, makes them the perfect organism for the study of various evolutionary

The complex life cycle and widespread range of infection of Plasmodium parasites, the causal agent of malaria in humans, makes them the perfect organism for the study of various evolutionary mechanisms. In particular, multigene families are considered one of the main sources for genome adaptability and innovation. Within Plasmodium, numerous species- and clade-specific multigene families have major functions in the development and maintenance of infection. Nonetheless, while the evolutionary mechanisms predominant on many species- and clade-specific multigene families have been previously studied, there are far less studies dedicated to analyzing genus common multigene families (GCMFs). I studied the patterns of natural selection and recombination in 90 GCMFs with diverse numbers of gene gain/loss events. I found that the majority of GCMFs are formed by duplications events that predate speciation of mammal Plasmodium species, with many paralogs being neutrally maintained thereafter. In general, multigene families involved in immune evasion and host cell invasion commonly showed signs of positive selection and species-specific gain/loss events; particularly, on Plasmodium species is the simian and rodent clades. A particular multigene family: the merozoite surface protein-7 (msp7) family, is found in all Plasmodium species and has functions related to the erythrocyte invasion. Within Plasmodium vivax, differences in the number of paralogs in this multigene family has been previously explained, at least in part, as potential adaptations to the human host. To investigate this I studied msp7 orthologs in closely related non-human primate parasites where homology was evident. I also estimated paralogs’ evolutionary history and genetic polymorphism. The emerging patterns where compared with those of Plasmodium falciparum. I found that the evolution of the msp7 multigene family is consistent with a Birth-and-Death model where duplications, pseudogenization and gene lost events are common. In order to study additional aspects in the evolution of Plasmodium, I evaluated the trends of long term and short term evolution and the putative effects of vertebrate- host’s immune pressure of gametocytes across various Plasmodium species. Gametocytes, represent the only sexual stage within the Plasmodium life cycle, and are also the transition stages from the vertebrate to the mosquito vector. I found that, while male and female gametocytes showed different levels of immunogenicity, signs of positive selection were not entirely related to the location and presence of immune epitope regions. Overall, these studies further highlight the complex evolutionary patterns observed in Plasmodium.