Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Plasmodium vivax populations revisited: mitochondrial genomes of temperate strains in Asia suggest ancient population expansion

Miao Miao1, Zhaoqing Yang2, Harland Patch1, Yaming Huang3, Ananias A Escalante4 and Liwang Cui1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Entomology, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802, USA

2 Parasitology Department, Kunming Medical College, Kunming, Yunnan, China

3 Malaria Department, Guangxi CDC, Nanning, Guangxi, China

4 School of Life Sciences, Arizona State University, PO Box 874501, Tempe, AZ, USA

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2012, 12:22  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-12-22

Published: 17 February 2012



Plasmodium vivax is the most widely distributed human malaria parasite outside of Africa, and its range extends well into the temperate zones. Previous studies provided evidence for vivax population differentiation, but temperate vivax parasites were not well represented in these analyses. Here we address this deficit by using complete mitochondrial (mt) genome sequences to elucidate the broad genetic diversity and population structure of P. vivax from temperate regions in East and Southeast Asia.


From the complete mtDNA sequences of 99 clinical samples collected in China, Myanmar and Korea, a total of 30 different haplotypes were identified from 26 polymorphic sites. Significant differentiation between different East and Southeast Asian parasite populations was observed except for the comparison between populations from Korea and southern China. Haplotype patterns and structure diversity analysis showed coexistence of two different groups in East Asia, which were genetically related to the Southeast Asian population and Myanmar population, respectively. The demographic history of P. vivax, examined using neutrality tests and mismatch distribution analyses, revealed population expansion events across the entire P. vivax range and the Myanmar population. Bayesian skyline analysis further supported the occurrence of ancient P. vivax population expansion.


This study provided further resolution of the population structure and evolution of P. vivax, especially in temperate/warm-temperate endemic areas of Asia. The results revealed divergence of the P. vivax populations in temperate regions of China and Korea from other populations. Multiple analyses confirmed ancient population expansion of this parasite. The extensive genetic diversity of the P. vivax populations is consistent with phenotypic plasticity of the parasites, which has implications for malaria control.

genetic diversity; mitochondrial DNA; Plasmodium vivax; biogeography