Trypanosoma brucei undergoes genetic exchange in its insect vector, the tsetse fly, by an unknown mechanism. The difficulties of working with this experimental system of genetic exchange have hampered investigation, particularly because the trypanosome life cycle stages involved cannot be cultured in vitro and therefore must be examined in the insect. Searching for small numbers of hybrid trypanosomes directly in the fly has become possible through the incorporation of fluorescent reporter genes, and we have previously carried out a successful cross using a reporter-repressor strategy. However, we could not be certain that all fluorescent trypanosomes observed in that cross were hybrids, due to mutations of the repressor leading to spontaneous fluorescence, and we have therefore developed an alternative strategy.Results
To visualize the production of hybrids in the fly, parental trypanosome clones were transfected with a gene encoding Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) or Red Fluorescent Protein (RFP). Co-infection of flies with red and green fluorescent parental trypanosomes produced yellow fluorescent hybrids, which were easily visualized in the fly salivary glands. Yellow trypanosomes were not seen in midgut or proventricular samples and first appeared in the glands as epimastigotes as early as 13 days after fly infection. Cloned progeny originating from individual salivary glands had yellow, red, green or no fluorescence and were confirmed as hybrids by microsatellite, molecular karyotype and kinetoplast (mitochondrial) DNA analyses. Hybrid clones showed biparental inheritance of both nuclear and kinetoplast genomes. While segregation and reassortment of the reporter genes and microsatellite alleles were consistent with Mendelian inheritance, flow cytometry measurement of DNA content revealed both diploid and polyploid trypanosomes among the hybrid progeny clones.Conclusion
The strategy of using production of yellow hybrids to indicate mating in trypanosomes provides a robust and unequivocal system for analysis of genetic exchange. Mating occurred with high frequency in these experimental crosses, limited only by the ability of both parental trypanosomes to invade the salivary glands. Yellow hybrids appeared as soon as trypanosomes invaded the salivary glands, implicating the short, unattached epimastigote as the sexual stage. The recovery of diploid, triploid and tetraploid hybrids in these crosses was surprising as genetic markers appeared to have been inherited according to Mendelian rules. As the polyploid hybrids could have been produced from fusion of unreduced gametes, there is no fundamental conflict with a model of genetic exchange involving meiosis.