The African trypanosome, Trypanosoma brucei, has been shown to undergo genetic exchange in the laboratory, but controversy exists as to the role of genetic exchange in natural populations. Much of the analysis to date has been derived from isoenzyme or randomly amplified polymorphic DNA data with parasite material from a range of hosts and geographical locations. These markers fail to distinguish between the human infective (T. b. rhodesiense) and nonhuman infective (T. b. brucei) “subspecies” so that parasites derived from hosts other than humans potentially contain both subspecies. To overcome some of the inherent problems with the use of such markers and diverse populations, we have analyzed a well-defined population from a discrete geographical location (Busoga, Uganda) using three recently described minisatellite markers. The parasites were primarily isolated from humans and cattle with the latter isolates further characterized by their ability to resist lysis by human serum (equivalent to human infectivity). The minisatellite markers show high levels of polymorphism, and from the data obtained we conclude that T. b. rhodesiense is genetically isolated from T. b. brucei and can be unambiguously identified by its multilocus genotype. Analysis of the genotype frequencies in the separated T. b. brucei and T. b. rhodesiense populations shows the former has an epidemic population structure whereas the latter is clonal. This finding suggests that the strong linkage disequilibrium observed in previous analyses, where human and nonhuman infective trypanosomes were not distinguished, results from the treatment of two genetically isolated populations as a single population.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (2000) 97 (24) 13442-13447 [doi: 10.1073/pnas.230434097]