Ongoing elimination efforts have altered the global distribution of Onchocerca volvulus, the agent of river blindness, and further population restructuring is expected as efforts continue. Therefore, a better understanding of population genetic processes and their effect on biogeography is needed to support elimination goals. We describe O. volvulus genome variation in 27 isolates from the early 1990s (before widespread mass treatment) from four distinct locales: Ecuador, Uganda, the West African forest and the West African savanna. We observed genetic substructuring between Ecuador and West Africa and between the West African forest and savanna bioclimes, with evidence of unidirectional gene flow from savanna to forest strains. We identified forest:savanna-discriminatory genomic regions and report a set of ancestry informative loci that can be used to differentiate between forest, savanna and admixed isolates, which has not previously been possible. We observed mito-nuclear discordance possibly stemming from incomplete lineage sorting. The catalogue of the nuclear, mitochondrial and endosymbiont DNA variants generated in this study will support future basic and translational onchocerciasis research, with particular relevance for ongoing control programmes, and boost efforts to characterize drug, vaccine and diagnostic targets.

Original languageEnglish
Article number16207
JournalNature microbiology
StatePublished - Nov 21 2016


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