Mitochondrial DNAs provide insight into trypanosome phylogeny and molecular evolution

Christopher Kay*, Tom A Williams, Wendy Gibson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
85 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Trypanosomes are single-celled eukaryotic parasites characterised by the unique biology of their mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). African livestock trypanosomes impose a major burden on agriculture across sub-Saharan Africa, but are poorly understood compared to those that cause sleeping sickness and Chagas disease in humans. Here we explore the potential of trypanosome mtDNA to study the evolutionary history of trypanosomes and the molecular evolution of their mtDNAs.

Results: We used long-read sequencing to completely assemble mtDNAs from four previously uncharacterized African trypanosomes, and leveraged these assemblies to scaffold and assemble a further 103 trypanosome mtDNAs from published short-read data. While synteny was largely conserved, there were repeated, independent losses of Complex I genes. Comparison of edited and non-edited genes revealed the impact of RNA editing on nucleotide composition, with non-edited genes approaching the limits of GC loss. African tsetse-transmitted trypanosomes showed high levels of RNA editing compared to other trypanosomes. Whole mtDNA coding regions were used to construct time-resolved phylogenetic trees, revealing deep divergence events among isolates of the pathogens Trypanosoma brucei and T. congolense .

Conclusions: Our mtDNA data represents a new resource for experimental and evolutionary analyses of trypanosome phylogeny, molecular evolution and function. Molecular clock analyses yielded a timescale for trypanosome evolution congruent with major biogeographical events in Africa and revealed the recent emergence of Trypanosoma brucei gambiense and T. equiperdum , major human and animal pathogens.
Original languageEnglish
Article number161 (2020)
Number of pages13
JournalBMC Evolutionary Biology
Publication statusPublished - 9 Dec 2020


  • trypanosome
  • kinetoplast
  • maxicircle
  • mitochondrial DNA
  • phylogeny
  • RNA editing

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