Parasite hybridization promotes spreading of endosymbiotic viruses

Senne Heeren, Ilse Maes, Mandy Sanders, Lon-Fye Lye, Jorge Arevalo, Alejandro Llanos-Cuentas, Lineth Garcia, Philippe Lemey, Stephen M Beverley, James A Cotton, Jean-Claude Dujardin, Frederik Van den Broeck

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Viruses are the most abundant biological entities on Earth and play a significant role in the evolution of many organisms and ecosystems. In pathogenic protozoa, the presence of endosymbiotic viruses has been linked to an increased risk of treatment failure and severe clinical outcome. Here, we studied the molecular epidemiology of the zoonotic disease cutaneous leishmaniasis in Peru and Bolivia through a joint evolutionary analysis of Leishmania braziliensis parasites and their endosymbiotic Leishmania RNA virus. We show that parasite populations circulate in isolated pockets of suitable habitat and are associated with single viral lineages that appear in low prevalence. In contrast, groups of hybrid parasites were geographically and ecologically dispersed, and commonly infected from a pool of genetically diverse viruses. Our results suggest that parasite hybridization, likely due to increased human migration and ecological perturbations, increased the frequency of endosymbiotic interactions known to play a key role in disease severity.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages50
Publication statusPublished - 2023


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