Research Article

Host specificity, evolutionary relationships and macrogeographic differentiation among Ascaris populations from humans and pigs

T. J. C. ANDERSON a1 a2 and J. JAENIKE a1
a1 Department of Biology, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY 14627, USA
a2 Center for Studies of Sensory Impairment, Aging and Metabolism (CeSSIAM), Guatemala City, Guatemala


We describe a variety of restriction site polymorphisms in the introns of Ascaris nuclear genes and in the ribosomal DNA spacers. We use these markers, in addition to previously described mitochondrial variation, to clarify our understanding of the epidemiology of Ascaris in Guatemalan villages where humans and pigs occur in sympatry and to describe the genetic structure of host-associated Ascaris populations from world-wide locations. Intron sequences were amplified from individual worms and alleles defined by endonuclease digestion. Two loci were monomorphic, while 4 length variants and 22 point mutations were detected in the other 7 loci. Within sympatric Guatemalan populations no single locus from either the nuclear or mitochondrial genome was fixed for alternative alleles, although allele frequencies were significantly different at many loci. Phenograms constructed from multilocus nuclear genotypes of individual worms failed to reveal a single case of cross-infection, and demonstrate that divergent mtDNA genotypes are segregating within host-associated populations. On a world-wide scale, the data suggest that extant worm populations result from a single host shift, although characterization of genetic variation in additional loci will be necessary to confirm this. The direction and the geographical origin of the host shift were unresolved. Overall 65% of nuclear genetic variation was found within populations, host (human or pig) explained 18%, while geographical variation within host-associated populations explained 17%. The results (a) demonstrate the utility of introns for studying the epidemiology of parasites showing limited allozyme variation (b) suggest that programmes aiming to control Ascaris infection in the human population can safely ignore zoonotic infection from pigs and (c) illustrate the problems inherent in using single genetic markers to make inferences about the epidemiology of closely related parasite taxa.

(Received November 21 1996)
(Revised March 1 1997)
(Accepted March 5 1997)

Key Words: Ascaris; mitochondrial DNA; introns; ancestral polymorphisms; introgression; pigs.


Corresponding author: Wellcome Trust Centre for Epidemiology of Infectious Disease, Department of Zoology, Oxford University, South Parks Rd, Oxford OX1 3PS UK. Tel: +(01865) 281 221. Fax +(01865) 281 245. E-mail: