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An evolutionary legacy of sex and clonal reproduction in the protistan oyster parasite Perkinsus marinus.


Perkinsus marinus, a protozoan parasite of the eastern oyster Crassostrea virginica, causes Dermo disease which limits fecundity and causes high mortality in host populations. The long-term efficacy of management strategies for suppressing this disease in both aquaculture and restoration settings depends on the potential rate of evolutionary response by P. marinus. Sexual reproduction has never been demonstrated in vitro or in previous population genetic studies. We developed high resolution microsatellite markers and amplified alleles directly from infected oyster genomic DNA. Of 336 infected oysters from four populations between Massachusetts and Florida, 129 (48%) appeared to be infected with a single parasite genotype and were subjected to population genetic analyses assuming diploidy. The great diversity of multilocus genotypes observed is incompatible with strictly clonal reproduction. Substantial heterozygote deficits in three populations suggest that sexual reproduction often involves inbreeding. At the same time, significant multilocus linkage disequilibrium occurred in most sampled populations, and several genotypes were sampled repeatedly in each of two populations, indicating that asexual reproduction also occurs in P. marinus populations. Interestingly, where this parasite has recently expanded its range, lower strain diversity, significant heterozygote excess, and highly heterozygous multilocus genotypes suggests clonal propagation of recent recombinants. Taken together, these data suggest that P. marinus employs multiple reproductive modes, and that over the short term, selection acts upon independent parasite lineages rather than upon individual loci in a cohesive, interbreeding population. Nevertheless, high genotypic diversity is the evolutionary legacy of sex in P. marinus. Anthropogenic movement of infected oysters may increase outcrossing opportunities, potentially facilitating rapid evolution of this parasite.


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    Behavior, Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics Program, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742, USA.




    Biological Evolution
    Genetic Variation
    Linkage Disequilibrium
    Microsatellite Repeats
    Models, Genetic
    Multilocus Sequence Typing
    Poisson Distribution

    Pub Type(s)

    Journal Article
    Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
    Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.



    PubMed ID