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Genomes and geography: genomic insights into the evolution and phylogeography of the genus Schistosoma

Scott P Lawton125*, Hirohisa Hirai3, Joe E Ironside1, David A Johnston24 and David Rollinson2

Author Affiliations

1 The Institute of Biological, Environmental & Rural Sciences, Aberystwyth University, Penglais, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, SY23 3D, UK

2 Wolfson Wellcome Biomedical Laboratories, Dept. of Zoology, Natural History Museum, London, SW7 5BD, UK

3 The Primate Research Institute, University of Kyoto, Inuyama, Aichi 484-8506, Japan

4 School of Medicine, University of Southampton, Mailpoint 12, Level B, Lab and Path Block, Southampton General Hospital, Southampton SO16 6YD, UK

5 School of Life Sciences, Kingston University London, Penrhyn Road, Kingston upon Thames, Surrey KT1 2EE, UK

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Parasites & Vectors 2011, 4:131  doi:10.1186/1756-3305-4-131

Published: 7 July 2011


Blood flukes within the genus Schistosoma still remain a major cause of disease in the tropics and subtropics and the study of their evolution has been an area of major debate and research. With the advent of modern molecular and genomic approaches deeper insights have been attained not only into the divergence and speciation of these worms, but also into the historic movement of these parasites from Asia into Africa, via migration and dispersal of definitive and snail intermediate hosts. This movement was subsequently followed by a radiation of Schistosoma species giving rise to the S. mansoni and S. haematobium groups, as well as the S. indicum group that reinvaded Asia. Each of these major evolutionary events has been marked by distinct changes in genomic structure evident in differences in mitochondrial gene order and nuclear chromosomal architecture between the species associated with Asia and Africa. Data from DNA sequencing, comparative molecular genomics and karyotyping are indicative of major constitutional genomic events which would have become fixed in the ancestral populations of these worms. Here we examine how modern genomic techniques may give a more in depth understanding of the evolution of schistosomes and highlight the complexity of speciation and divergence in this group.