An evolutionary genomics approach towards understanding Plasmodium vivax in central Africa
Increased attention has recently been placed on understanding the natural variation of the malaria parasite Plasmodium vivax across the globe, as in 2020 alone, P. vivax caused an estimated 4.5 million malaria cases and lead to over 600,000 deaths around the world. P. vivax infections in central Africa have been of particular interest, as humans in Sub-Saharan Africa frequently possess a P. vivax resistance allele known as the Duffy-negative phenotype that is believed to prevent infection in these individuals. However, new reports of asymptomatic and symptomatic infections in Duffy-negative individuals in Africa raise the possibility that P. vivax is evolving to evade host resistance.Whole genome sequencing has become more common as a means of understanding the population diversity of P. vivax. However, there is still a scarcity of information about P. vivax in central Africa. In this dissertation, I analyze whole genome sequencing data from a new P. vivax sample collected from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in central Africa. By studying P. vivax from central Africa, we can begin to understand the evolutionary history of the pathogen in this part of the world as it relates to the global context of this pathogen. I also investigate the relationship of P. vivax in the DRC with a potential animal reservoir of a closely related species, P. vivax-like, in non-human primates in this region. Due to the scarcity of P. vivax samples in central Africa, I also investigated methods with which to best make use of whole genome sequencing data, particularly in generating phylogenetic trees. While many studies of P. vivax genetic diversity employ whole genome variation data in order to study evolutionary relationships of P. vivax populations, in this dissertation I make use of the P. vivax apicoplast, a non-photosynthetic plastid organelle genome. The apicoplast genome is five times longer than the mitochondrial genome and does not undergo recombination, making it a valuable locus for studying P. vivax evolutionary history using phylogenetic trees.
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