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First molecular characterization of Theileria ornithorhynchi Mackerras, 1959: yet another challenge to the systematics of the piroplasms

Paparini, A.ORCID: 0000-0002-1105-5184, Macgregor, J., Ryan, U.M.ORCID: 0000-0003-2710-9324 and Irwin, P.J.ORCID: 0000-0002-0006-8262 (2015) First molecular characterization of Theileria ornithorhynchi Mackerras, 1959: yet another challenge to the systematics of the piroplasms. Protist, 166 (6). pp. 609-620.

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Piroplasms, tick-transmitted Apicomplexa of the genera Theileria, Babesia and Cytauxzoon, are blood-borne parasites of clinical and veterinary importance. The order Piroplasmida shows a puzzling systematics characterized by multiple clades, soft polytomies and paraphyletic/polyphyletic genera. In the present study, screening of platypuses (Ornithorhynchus anatinus), was performed to infer the parasite molecular phylogeny. DNA was extracted from blood, ectoparasites and tick eggs and the 18S rRNA– hsp70–genes were used for the phylogenetic reconstructions. Microscopic analyses detected pleomorphic intra-erythrocytic organisms and tetrads consistent with previous descriptions of Theileria ornithorhynchi Mackerras, 1959, but observation of possible schizonts could not be confirmed. DNA sequences obtained from blood and ticks allowed resolving the systematics of the first piroplasm infecting a monotreme host. Molecularly, T. ornithorhynchi formed a novel monophyletic group, basal to most known piroplasms’ clades. The ancestral position of this clade, isolated from an ancient lineage of mammalian host appears particularly fascinating. The present paper discusses the inadequacies of the current molecular systematics for the Piroplasmida and the consequences of incomplete sampling, morphology-based classification and ambiguous microscopic identifications. Likely when the current sampling bias is rectified and more sequence data is made available, the phylogenetic position of T. ornithorhynchi will be further contextualized without ambiguity.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Veterinary and Life Sciences
Publisher: Elsevier
Copyright: © 2015 Elsevier GmbH.
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