Progress in malaria research: the case for phylogenetics.

TitleProgress in malaria research: the case for phylogenetics.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2003
AuthorsRich SM, Ayala FJ
JournalAdv Parasitol
Date Published2003
KeywordsAnimals, Biomedical Research, Evolution, Molecular, Genome, Malaria, Phylogeny, Plasmodium

Malaria, from the Italian for "bad air", is a term used to describe a human disease caused by any of four parasites of the genus, Plasmodium. There are in fact over 200 described species of Plasmodium that parasitize reptiles, birds, and mammals, and may or may not cause disease in these various hosts. In this chapter, we highlight important evolutionary studies that have been undertaken to determine the relatedness among these species and their place in the taxonomic hierarchy. We begin by providing an overview of our present understanding of the phylum to which malaria parasites belong--Apicomplexa. The unique characteristics of these parasites reflect both their adaptation to the parasitic life style as well as some vestigial remnants of their pre-parasitic evolutionary past. Phylogenetic analyses provide the means for discerning the means by which these characteristics have come into existence. We next discuss the systematics of the genus Plasmodium. Morphology, genomic structure and content as well as host affiliation of these parasites are all traits that have been used for establishing taxonomic arrangements. Molecular phylogenetics has proven to be an invaluable tool in this regard and so we discuss the current phylogenetic picture of the genus as well as the correspondence among the various datasets (morphology, molecules, and host-preference). Lastly, we present a detailed account of our current understanding of the evolutionary past of the most deadly of the human malaria species--P. falciparum.

Alternate JournalAdv. Parasitol.
PubMed ID14711087