Analysis of nuclear and organellar genomes of Plasmodium knowlesi in humans reveals ancient population structure and recent recombination among host-specific subpopulations
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The macaque parasite Plasmodium knowlesi is a significant concern in Malaysia where cases of human infection are increasing. Parasites infecting humans originate from genetically distinct subpopulations associated with the long-tailed (Macaca fascicularis (Mf)) or pig-tailed macaques (Macaca nemestrina (Mn)). We used a new high-quality reference genome to re-evaluate previously described subpopulations among human and macaque isolates from Malaysian-Borneo and Peninsular-Malaysia. Nuclear genomes were dimorphic, as expected, but new evidence of chromosomal-segment exchanges between subpopulations was found. A large segment on chromosome 8 originating from the Mn subpopulation and containing genes encoding proteins expressed in mosquito-borne parasite stages, was found in Mf genotypes. By contrast, non-recombining organelle genomes partitioned into 3 deeply branched lineages, unlinked with nuclear genomic dimorphism. Subpopulations which diverged in isolation have re-connected, possibly due to deforestation and disruption of wild macaque habitats. The resulting genomic mosaics reveal traits selected by host-vector-parasite interactions in a setting of ecological transition.