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Intraclonal mating occurs during tsetse transmission of Trypanosoma brucei

Lori Peacock12, Vanessa Ferris12, Mick Bailey2 and Wendy Gibson1*

Author Affiliations

1 School of Biological Sciences University of Bristol, Bristol BS8 1UG, UK

2 Department of Clinical Veterinary Science, University of Bristol, Langford, Bristol BS40 7DU, UK

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Parasites & Vectors 2009, 2:43  doi:10.1186/1756-3305-2-43

Published: 21 September 2009



Mating in Trypanosoma brucei is a non-obligatory event, triggered by the co-occurrence of different strains in the salivary glands of the vector. Recombinants that result from intra- rather than interclonal mating have been detected, but only in crosses of two different trypanosome strains. This has led to the hypothesis that when trypanosomes recognize a different strain, they release a diffusible factor or pheromone that triggers mating in any cell in the vicinity whether it is of the same or a different strain. This idea assumes that the trypanosome can recognize self and non-self, although there is as yet no evidence for the existence of mating types in T. brucei.


We investigated intraclonal mating in T. b. brucei by crossing red and green fluorescent lines of a single strain, so that recombinant progeny can be detected in the fly by yellow fluorescence. For strain 1738, seven flies had both red and green trypanosomes in the salivary glands and, in three, yellow trypanosomes were also observed, although they could not be recovered for subsequent analysis. Nonetheless, both red and non-fluorescent clones from these flies had recombinant genotypes as judged by microsatellite and karyotype analyses, and some also had raised DNA contents, suggesting recombination or genome duplication. Strain J10 produced similar results indicative of intraclonal mating. In contrast, trypanosome clones recovered from other flies showed that genotypes can be transmitted with fidelity. When a yellow hybrid clone expressing both red and green fluorescent protein genes was transmitted, the salivary glands contained a mixture of fluorescent-coloured trypanosomes, but only yellow and red clones were recovered. While loss of the GFP gene in the red clones could have resulted from gene conversion, some of these clones showed loss of heterozygosity and raised DNA contents as in the other single strain transmissions. Our observations suggest that many recombinants are non-viable after intraclonal mating.


We have demonstrated intraclonal mating during fly transmission of T. b. brucei, contrary to previous findings that recombination occurs only when another strain is present. It is thus no longer possible to assume that T. b. brucei remains genetically unaltered after fly transmission.