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The conquest of the Americas by Malaria parasites: a population genomic view

Grant number: 22/10056-2
Support Opportunities:Scholarships in Brazil - Post-Doctoral
Effective date (Start): January 01, 2023
Effective date (End): December 31, 2024
Field of knowledge:Biological Sciences - Parasitology - Protozoology of Parasites
Principal Investigator:Marcelo Urbano Ferreira
Grantee:Nathalia Rammé Medeiros de Albuquerque
Host Institution: Instituto de Ciências Biomédicas (ICB). Universidade de São Paulo (USP). São Paulo , SP, Brazil
Associated scholarship(s):23/12394-5 - Genomic view of the origins and adaptation of Plasmodium populations in the Americas, BE.EP.PD


The Americas were the last continent to be settled by modern humans, approximately 15,000 years ago, but human malaria parasites - Plasmodium falciparum, P. vivax, and P. malariae - appear to have arrived much later. Most available evidence suggests that malaria was introduced in the Americas after the European colonization - by settlers from Portugal and Spain, where malaria was endemic at the time of conquest, and, more importantly, by the massive Trans-Atlantic slave trade from Africa. Once in the Americas, P. vivax and P. malariae were able to adapt to new local vertebrate hosts, New World platyrrhine monkeys, originating the sister species P. simium and P. brasilianum, respectively. Here we propose to combine publicly available data with 185 newly generated whole-genome sequences to investigate the historical founding events and subsequent evolution of human malaria parasites in the Americas and their recurrent transfers to non-human primates. We will apply the same standardized population genomic approaches to sequence data from three species to address the following questions: (a) Can the relative contribution of different source regions to present-day parasite populations in the Americas be inferred? (b) Are genomic sequence data consistent with similar routes and dates of introduction and supsequent spread in the Americas for all three human malaria parasites? (c) Is there evidence for genetic bottlenecks during the adaptation to new local vectors and vertebrate hosts upon arrival in the New World? (d) Are there genomic signatures of adaptation to platyrrhine monkeys following the host shift that originated P. simium and P. brasilianum? (AU)

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