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Reproduction in Leishmania: A focus on genetic exchange

Rougeron, V., De Meeûs, T., Bañuls, A.-L.
Infection, genetics, and evolution 2017 v.50 pp. 128-132
Leishmania, genes, genetic recombination, leishmaniasis, metagenomics, parasites, pathogens, population genetics, sexual reproduction
One key process of the life cycle of pathogens is their mode of reproduction. Indeed, this fundamental biological process conditions the multiplication and the transmission of genes and thus the propagation of diseases in the environment. Reproductive strategies of protozoan parasites have been a subject of debate for many years, principally due to the difficulty in making direct observations of sexual reproduction (i.e. genetic recombination). Traditionally, these parasites were considered as characterized by a preeminent clonal structure. Nevertheless, with the development of elaborate culture experiments, population genetics and evolutionary and population genomics, several studies suggested that most of these pathogens were also characterized by constitutive genetic recombination events. In this opinion, we focused on Leishmania parasites, pathogens responsible of leishmaniases, a major public health issue. We first discuss the evolutionary advantages of a mixed mating reproductive strategy, then we review the evidence of genetic exchange, and finally we detail available tools to detect naturally occurring genetic recombination in Leishmania parasites and more generally in protozoan parasites.