Globally diverse Toxoplasma gondii isolates comprise six major clades originating from a small number of distinct ancestral lineages

Chunlei Su, Asis Khan, Peng Zhou, Debashree Majumdar, Daniel Ajzenberg, Marie Laure Dardé, Xing Quan Zhu, James W. Ajioka, Benjamin M. Rosenthal, Jitender P. Dubey, L. David Sibley

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268 Scopus citations


Marked phenotypic variation characterizes isolates of Toxoplasma gondii, a ubiquitous zoonotic parasite that serves as an important experimental model for studying apicomplexan parasites. Progress in identifying the heritable basis for clinically and epidemiologically significant differences requires a robust system for describing and interpreting evolutionary subdivisions in this prevalent pathogen. To develop such a system, we have examined more than 950 isolates collected from around the world and genotyped them using three independent sets of polymorphic DNA markers, sampling 30 loci distributed across all nuclear chromosomes as well as the plastid genome. Our studies reveal a biphasic pattern consisting of regions in the Northern Hemisphere where a few, highly clonal and abundant lineages predominate; elsewhere, and especially in portions of South America are characterized by a diverse assemblage of less common genotypes that show greater evidence of recombination. Clustering methods were used to organize the marked genetic diversity of 138 unique genotypes into 15 haplogroups that collectively define six major clades. Analysis of gene flow indicates that a small number of ancestral lineages gave rise to the existing diversity through a process of limited admixture. Identification of reference strains for these major groups should facilitate future studies on comparative genomics and identification of genes that control important biological phenotypes including pathogenesis and transmission.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5844-5849
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number15
StatePublished - Apr 10 2012


  • Inheritance
  • Population structure
  • Toxoplasmosis


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