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Virulent strains of Toxoplasma gondii comprise a single clonal lineage


THE protozoan Toxoplasma gondii is a prevalent parasite in wild and domestic animals worldwide, being transmitted through the food chain by carnivorous feeding and scavenging1. Toxoplasma normally divides asexually to yield a haploid form that can infect virtually any vertebrate but it also has a well defined sexual cycle that occurs exclusively in cats1. Toxoplasma has become important as an often fatal opportunistic pathogen in patients with AIDS2,3, although the 15–85% of adult human populations that are chronically infected with T. gondii are typically asymptomatic4–7. Infections in immunocompromised hosts have variable outcomes. For example, only 30 to 50% of AIDS patients that are chronically infected with the parasite develop toxoplasmic encephalitis2,3 and only about half of acute maternal infections result in congenital disease of the newborn8. T. gondii strains differ in their virulence in animals1, but the extent to which different strains are related has not been determined. Here we analyse 28 strains from a variety of hosts on five continents and find that the ten virulent strains have an essentially identical genotype, whereas the nonvirulent strains are moderately polymorphic. These data strongly suggest that virulent strains of T. gondii originated from a single lineage which has remained genetically homogeneous despite being globally widespread, and despite the ability of this organism to reproduce sexually

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Sibley, L., Boothroyd, J. Virulent strains of Toxoplasma gondii comprise a single clonal lineage. Nature 359, 82–85 (1992).

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