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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Evolutionary origin of Plasmodium and other Apicomplexa based on rRNA genes.

  • Author(s): Escalante, AA
  • Ayala, FJ
  • et al.

We have explored the evolutionary history of the Apicomplexa and two related protistan phyla, Dinozoa and Ciliophora, by comparing the nucleotide sequences of small subunit ribosomal RNA genes. We conclude that the Plasmodium lineage, to which the malarial parasites belong, diverged from other apicomplexan lineages (piroplasmids and coccidians) several hundred million years ago, perhaps even before the Cambrian. The Plasmodium radiation, which gave rise to several species parasitic to humans, occurred approximately 129 million years ago; Plasmodium parasitism of humans has independently arisen several times. The origin of apicomplexans (Plasmodium), dinoflagellates, and ciliates may be > 1 billion years old, perhaps older than the three multicellular kingdoms of animals, plants, and fungi. Digenetic parasitism independently evolved several times in the Apicomplexa.

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