Lehrstuhl für Zell- und Entwicklungsbiologie

    How infections evolve at the interface between host and parasite is not understood. Trypanosomes have adapted to life within the bloodstream of all vertebrate classes - from fish to bird. We exploit this unique feature for systematic studies on select cell biological features that might be responsible for the huge evolutionary success of the parasites.

    Until recently, the knowledge of the evolution of kinetoplastids was fragmentary. A robust framework for comparative approaches was missing. However, systematic diversity studies and timely phylogenetic analyses are beginning to impact on the understanding of kinetoplastid evolution. Today, it is accepted that the closest relatives of kinetoplastids are not euglenids but rather an enigmatic group called diplonemids, free-living protozoa that can also prosper as facultative parasites of invertebrates. Given that reversion to a free-living state did not occur, there must have been at least four independent adoptions of obligate parasitism or commensalism. Each parasitic group has closely affiliated free-living relatives. The origin of Leishmania and Trypanosoma from within living insect trypanosomatids is most likely. This means that their origins were not earlier than 370 million years ago, when the invasion of land by vertebrates occurred. The transmission of an insect trypanosomatid into a warm-blooded host must have occurred many times but it was successful only rarely. So far, only Trypanosoma and Leishmania have left surviving descendants and only trypanosomes have adopted an extracellular lifestyle. However, once having passed this bottleneck, trypanosome radiation and adaptation to diverse vertebrate species became an unprecedented evolutionary success story. Today, these parasites prosper in essentially all vertebrate species, from fish to bird. To unravel the molecular basis of the rapid evolution of trypanosomes in amazingly diverse hosts is our prime goal.
    These days, kinetoplastid phylogeny is sufficiently advanced to provide a solid framework for comparative studies. Genomic data are available for a few medically important kinetoplastids. Interestingly, the basic layout of trypansomatid genomes could be strikingly similar. Polycistronic transcription and trans-splicing apparently have evolved very early. Likewise, the lack of introns in protein-coding gene sequences could be a general feature of kinetoplastids. Thus, a marked streamlining of the nuclear genome might have occurred early in the history of kinetoplastids. If gene order is also highly conserved across kinetoplastids, the existing genome data might become a powerful tool for evolutionary inference once a broader sample of trypanosome genomes becomes available.


    Lehrstuhl für Zoologie I - Zell- und Entwicklungsbiologie
    Am Hubland
    97074 Würzburg

    Tel.: +49 931 31-84250
    Fax: +49 931 31-84252

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    Hubland Süd, Geb. B1 Hubland Nord, Geb. 32 Julius-von-Sachs-Platz 2 Fabrikschleichach Hubland Süd, Geb. B2 Campus Medizin