Population genetics of African Schistosoma species

10 Mar 2021

Blood flukes within the genus Schistosoma (schistosomes) are responsible for the major disease, schistosomiasis, in tropical and sub-tropical areas. This disease is predominantly present on the African continent with more than 85% of the human cases. Schistosomes are also parasites of veterinary importance infecting livestock and wildlife. Schistosoma population genetic structure and diversity are important characteristics that may reflect variations in selection pressures such as those induced by host (mammalian and snail) environments, habitat change, migration and also treatment/control interventions, all of which also shape speciation and evolution of the whole Schistosoma genus. Investigations into schistosome population genetic structure, diversity and evolution has been an area of important debate and research. Supported by advances in molecular techniques with capabilities for multi-locus genetic analyses for single larvae schistosome genetic investigations have greatly progressed in the last decade. This paper aims to review the genetic studies of both animal and human infecting schistosome. Population genetic structures are reviewed at different spatial scales: local, regional or continental (i.e. phylogeography). Within species genetic diversities are discussed compared and the compounding factors discussed, including the effect of mass drug administration. Finally, the ability for intra-species hybridisation questions species integrities and poses many questions in relation to the natural epidemiology of co-endemic species. Here we review molecularly confirmed hybridisation events (in relation to human disease) and discuss the possible impact for ongoing and future control and elimination.