Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

High-resolution genotyping and mapping of recombination and gene conversion in the protozoan Theileria parva using whole genome sequencing

Sonal Henson1, Richard P Bishop1, Subhash Morzaria1, Paul R Spooner1, Roger Pelle1, Lucy Poveda2, Martin Ebeling3, Erich Küng3, Ulrich Certa3, Claudia A Daubenberger45 and Weihong Qi2*

Author Affiliations

1 International Livestock Research Institute, Nairobi, 00100, Kenya

2 Functional Genomics Center Zurich, UZH/ETHZ, Winterthurerstrasse 190, 8057, Zurich, Switzerland

3 F. Hoffmann-La Roche AG, Basel, 4070, Switzerland

4 Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, Socinstrasse 57, Basel, 4002, Switzerland

5 University of Basel, Peterplatz 1, Basel, 4003, Switzerland

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BMC Genomics 2012, 13:503  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-13-503

Published: 23 September 2012



Theileria parva is a tick-borne protozoan parasite, which causes East Coast Fever, a disease of cattle in sub-Saharan Africa. Like Plasmodium falciparum, the parasite undergoes a transient diploid life-cycle stage in the gut of the arthropod vector, which involves an obligate sexual cycle. As assessed using low-resolution VNTR markers, the crossover (CO) rate in T. parva is relatively high and has been reported to vary across different regions of the genome; non-crossovers (NCOs) and CO-associated gene conversions have not yet been characterised due to the lack of informative markers. To examine all recombination events at high marker resolution, we sequenced the haploid genomes of two parental strains, and two recombinant clones derived from ticks fed on cattle that had been simultaneously co-infected with two different parasite isolates.


By comparing the genome sequences, we were able to genotype over 64 thousand SNP markers with an average spacing of 127 bp in the two progeny clones. Previously unrecognized COs in sub-telomeric regions were detected. About 50% of CO breakpoints were accompanied by gene conversion events. Such a high fraction of COs accompanied by gene conversions demonstrated the contributions of meiotic recombination to the diversity and evolutionary success of T. parva, as the process not only redistributed existing genetic variations, but also altered allelic frequencies. Compared to COs, NCOs were more frequently observed and more uniformly distributed across the genome. In both progeny clones, genomic regions with more SNP markers had a reduced frequency of COs or NCOs, suggesting that the sequence divergence between the parental strains was high enough to adversely affect recombination frequencies. Intra-species polymorphism analysis identified 81 loci as likely to be under selection in the sequenced genomes.


Using whole genome sequencing of two recombinant clones and their parents, we generated maps of COs, NCOs, and CO-associated gene conversion events for T. parva. The data comprises one of the highest-resolution genome-wide analyses of the multiple outcomes of meiotic recombination for this pathogen. The study also demonstrates the usefulness of high throughput sequencing typing for detailed analysis of recombination in organisms in which conventional genetic analysis is technically difficult.