Research Article: Comparative Phylogenetic Studies on Schistosoma japonicum and Its Snail Intermediate Host Oncomelania hupensis: Origins, Dispersal and Coevolution

Date Published: July 31, 2015

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Stephen W. Attwood, Motomu Ibaraki, Yasuhide Saitoh, Naoko Nihei, Daniel A. Janies, Joanne P. Webster.

Abstract: BackgroundSchistosoma japonicum causes major public health problems in China and the Philippines; this parasite, which is transmitted by freshwater snails of the species Oncomelania hupensis, causes the disease intestinal schistosomiasis in humans and cattle. Researchers working on Schistosoma in Africa have described the relationship between the parasites and their snail intermediate hosts as coevolved or even as an evolutionary arms race. In the present study this hypothesis of coevolution is evaluated for S. japonicum and O. hupensis. The origins and radiation of the snails and the parasite across China, and the taxonomic validity of the sub-species of O. hupensis, are also assessed.Methodology/Principal FindingsThe findings provide no evidence for coevolution between S. japonicum and O. hupensis, and the phylogeographical analysis suggests a heterochronous radiation of the parasites and snails in response to different palaeogeographical and climatic triggers. The results are consistent with a hypothesis of East to West colonisation of China by Oncomelania with a re-invasion of Japan by O. hupensis from China. The Taiwan population of S. japonicum appears to be recently established in comparison with mainland Chinese populations.Conclusions/SignificanceThe snail and parasite populations of the western mountain region of China (Yunnan and Sichuan) appear to have been isolated from Southeast Asian populations since the Pleistocene; this has implications for road and rail links being constructed in the region, which will breach biogeographical barriers between China and Southeast Asia. The results also have implications for the spread of S. japonicum. In the absence of coevolution, the parasite may more readily colonise new snail populations to which it is not locally adapted, or even new intermediate host species; this can facilitate its dispersal into new areas. Additional work is required to assess further the risk of spread of S. japonicum.

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