Molecular phylogeny of the filaria genus Onchocerca with special emphasis on Afrotropical human and bovine parasites

A. Krueger, P. Fischer, R. Morales-Hojas

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Filarial parasites of the genus Onchocerca are found in a broad spectrum of ungulate hosts. One species, O. volvulus, is a human parasite that can cause severe disease (onchocerciasis or 'river blindness'). The phylogenetic relationships and the bionomics of many of the nearly 30 known species remain dubious. Here, the phylogeny of 11 species representing most major lineages of the genus is investigated by analysing DNA sequences from three mitochondrial genes (ND5, 12S and 16S rRNA) and portions of the intergenic spacer of the nuclear 5s rRNA. Special emphasis is given to a clade containing a yet unassigned specimen from Uganda (O. sp. 'Siisa'), which appears to be intermediate between O. volvulus and O. ochengi. While the latter can be differentiated by the O-150 tandem repeat commonly used for molecular diagnostics, O. volvulus and O. sp.'Siisa' cannot be differentiated by this marker. In addition, a worm specimen from an African bushbuck appears to be closely related to the bovine O. dukei and represents the basal taxon of the human/bovine clade. At the base of the genus, our data suggest O. flexuosa (red deer), O. ramachandrini (warthog) and O. armillata (cow) to be the representatives of ancient lineages. The results provide better insight into the evolution and zoogeography of Onchocerca. They also have epidemiological and taxonomic implications by providing a framework for more accurate molecular diagnosis of filarial larvae in vectors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalActa Tropica
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2007


  • Mitochondrial DNA
  • Nuclear 5S rDNA spacer
  • O-150 tandem repeat
  • Onchocerca
  • Phylogenetics
  • Simulium sp


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