Genetic diversity in the Leishmania donovani complex
The Leishmania donovani complex comprises four described species: L. donovani, L. archibaldi, L. infantum and L. chagasi. L. chagasi is the only New World species and has been considered similar to L. infantum, although some authors insist on maintenance of its independent species status. L. donovani has at least two major epidemiological subgroups whose relationships are poorly understood. In this thesis, molecular biological techniques were used to investigate the taxonomy and phylogenetic relationships within the L. donovani complex, with isoenzyme analysis (lEA) as reference technique. Random amplification of polymorphic DNA (RAPD) was used to provide anonymous genetic markers which allowed overall comparisons of genomes. Selected target genes and intergenic regions were also amplified by the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), namely the major surface protease (msp or gp63), the mini-exon and the ribosomal internal transcribed spacer (ITS). PCR products of intergenic regions between msp genes (ITG/CS and ITG/L), mini-exon and ITS were analysed by restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP). Phylogenies generated from each of the methods were compared with that of IEA. L. infantum and L. chagasi were found to be synonymous, whilst L. donovani was found to be more polymorphic than L. infantum and a fourth possible species in the complex, L. archibaldi, was not supported. Six genetic groups of strains were identified in the L. donovani complex, based on all DNA based analyses, which agreed with IEA typing. Pooled data from RFLP and RAPD analyses generated robust phylogenies which were congruent with ITG/CS RFLP and msp DNA sequence based phylogenies, but not with lEA phylogenies. The evolutionary history of the L. donovani complex is analysed in the light of the present results. The diverse typing methods were also evaluated and genetic markers suggested, that are applicable to classification and typing of L. donovani species and strains.