Two nonrecombining sympatric forms of the human malaria parasite plasmodium ovale occur globally

Colin J. Sutherland, Naowarat Tanomsing, Debbie Nolder, Mary Oguike, Charlie Jennison, Sasithon Pukrittayakamee, Christiane Dolecek, Tran Tinh Hien, Virgilio E. Do Rosário, Ana Paula Arez, João Pinto, Pascal Michon, Ananias A. Escalante, Francois Nosten, Martina Burke, Rogan Lee, Marie Blaze, Thomas Dan Otto, John W. Barnwell, Arnab PainJohn Williams, Nicholas J. White, Nicholas P.J. Day, Georges Snounou, Peter J. Lockhart, Peter L. Chiodini, Mallika Imwong, Spencer D. Polley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

288 Scopus citations


Background. Malaria in humans is caused by apicomplexan parasites belonging to 5 species of the genus Plasmodium. Infections with Plasmodium ovale are widely distributed but rarely investigated, and the resulting burden of disease is not known. Dimorphism in defined genes has led to P ovale parasites being divided into classic and variant types. We hypothesized that these dimorphs represent distinct parasite species. Methods. Multilocus sequence analysis of 6 genetic characters was carried out among 55 isolates from 12 African and 3 Asia-Pacific countries. Results. Each genetic character displayed complete dimorphism and segregated perfectly between the 2 types. Both types were identified in samples from Ghana, Nigeria, São Tomé, Sierra Leone, and Uganda and have been described previously in Myanmar. Splitting of the 2 lineages is estimated to have occurred between 1.0 and 3.5 million years ago in hominid hosts. Conclusions. We propose that P ovale comprises 2 nonrecombining species that are sympatric in Africa and Asia. We speculate on possible scenarios that could have led to this speciation. Furthermore, the relatively high frequency of imported cases of symptomatic P ovale infection in the United Kingdom suggests that the morbidity caused by ovale malaria has been underestimated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1544-1550
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Infectious Diseases
Issue number10
StatePublished - May 15 2010
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Financial support: This work was supported by the United Kingdom Health Protection Agency and was part of the Wellcome Trust–Mahidol University–Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Programme, which is supported by the Wellcome Trust of Great Britain. P.L.C. is supported by the University College London Hospitals Comprehensive Biomedical Research Centre Infection Theme. N.T. and M.I. are supported by the Thailand Research Fund and the Commission on Higher Education. G.S. is supported by Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique and Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale, France.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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