Evolutionary genetics of malaria Journalartikel uri icon



  • Many standard-textbook population-genetic results apply to a wide range of species. Sometimes, however, population-genetic models and principles need to be tailored to a particular species. This is particularly true for malaria, which next to tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS ranks among the economically most relevant infectious diseases. Importantly, malaria is not one disease—five human-pathogenic species of Plasmodium exist. P. falciparum is not only the most severe form of human malaria, but it also causes the majority of infections. The second most relevant species, P. vivax, is already considered a neglected disease in several endemic areas. All human-pathogenic species have distinct characteristics that are not only crucial for control and eradication efforts, but also for the population-genetics of the disease. This is particularly true in the context of selection. Namely, fitness is determined by so-called fitness components, which are determined by the parasites live-history, which differs between malaria species. The presence of hypnozoites, i.e., dormant liver-stage parasites, which can cause disease relapses, is a distinct feature of P. vivax and P. ovale sp. In P. malariae inactivated blood-stage parasites can cause a recrudescence years after the infection was clinically cured. To properly describe population-genetic processes, such as the spread of anti-malarial drug resistance, these features must be accounted for appropriately. Here, we introduce and extend a population-genetic framework for the evolutionary dynamics of malaria, which applies to all human-pathogenic malaria species. The model focuses on, but is not limited to, the spread of drug resistance. The framework elucidates how the presence of dormant liver stage or inactivated blood stage parasites that act like seed banks delay evolutionary processes. It is shown that, contrary to standard population-genetic theory, the process of selection and recombination cannot be decoupled in malaria. Furthermore, we discuss the connection between haplotype frequencies, haplotype prevalence, transmission dynamics, and relapses or recrudescence in malaria.


  • 2022


  • Open Access


  • 13