Document Type


Date of Degree

Fall 2012

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Wilson, Mary E

Second Advisor

Kwitek, Anne E

First Committee Member

Wallrath, Lori L

Second Committee Member

Murray, Jeffrey C

Third Committee Member

Scheetz, Todd E

Fourth Committee Member

Maury, Wendy J


Trypanosomatids cause human diseases such as leishmaniasis and African trypanosomiasis. Trypanosomatids are protists from the order Trypanosomatida and include species of the genera Trypanosoma and Leishmania, which occupy a similar ecological niche. Both have digenic life-stages, alternating between an insect vector and a range of mammalian hosts. However, the strategies used to subvert the host immune system differ greatly as do the clinical outcome of infections between species. The genomes of both the host and the parasite instruct us about strategies the pathogens use to subvert the human immune system, and adaptations by the human host allowing us to better survive infections.

We have applied unsupervised learning algorithms to aid visualization of amino acid sequence similarity and the potential for recombination events within Trypanosoma brucei's large repertoire of variant surface glycoproteins (VSGs). Methods developed here reveal five groups of VSGs within a single sequenced genome of T. brucei, indicating many likely recombination events occurring between VSGs of the same type, but not between those of different types. These tools and methods can be broadly applied to identify groups of non-coding regulatory sequences within other Trypanosomatid genomes.

To aid in the detection, quantification, and species identification of leishmania DNA isolated from environmental or clinical specimens, we developed a set of quantitative-PCR primers and probes targeting a taxonomically and geographically broad spectrum of Leishmania species. This assay has been applied to DNA extracted from both human and canine hosts as well as the sand fly vector, demonstrating its flexibility and utility in a variety of research applications.

Within the host genomes, fine mapping SNP analysis was performed to detect polymorphisms in a family study of subjects in a region of Northeast Brazil that is endemic for Leishmania infantum chagasi, the parasite causing visceral leishmaniasis. These studies identified associations between genetic loci and the development of visceral leishmaniasis, with a single polymorphism associated with an asymptomatic outcome after infection.

The methods and results presented here have capitalized on the large amount of genomics data becoming available that will improve our understanding of both parasite and host genetics and their role in human disease.


bioinformatics, genomics, leishmania, leishmaniasis, Trypanosomiasis


x, 178 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 162-178).


Copyright 2012 Jason Lee Weirather

Included in

Genetics Commons