Next-generation 454 sequencing techniques were used to re-examine diversity of mitochondrial cytochrome b lineages of avian malaria (Plasmodium relictum) in Hawaii. We document a minimum of 23 variant lineages of the parasite based on single nucleotide transitional changes, in addition to the previously reported single lineage (GRW4). A new, publicly available portal (Integroomer) was developed for initial parsing of 454 datasets. Mean variant prevalence and frequency was higher in low elevation Hawaii Amakihi (Hemignathus virens) with Avipoxvirus-like lesions (P = 0·001), suggesting that the variants may be biologically distinct. By contrast, variant prevalence and frequency did not differ significantly among mid-elevation Apapane (Himatione sanguinea) with or without lesions (P = 0·691). The low frequency and the lack of detection of variants independent of GRW4 suggest that multiple independent introductions of P. relictum to Hawaii are unlikely. Multiple variants may have been introduced in heteroplasmy with GRW4 or exist within the tandem repeat structure of the mitochondrial genome. The discovery of multiple mitochondrial lineages of P. relictum in Hawaii provides a measure of genetic diversity within a geographically isolated population of this parasite and suggests the origins and evolution of parasite diversity may be more complicated than previously recognized.
Additional publication details
Next-generation sequencing reveals cryptic mtDNA diversity of Plasmodium relictum in the Hawaiian Islands