S. Nygaard, A. Braunstein, G. Malsen, S. Van Dongen, P.P. Gardner, A. Krogh, T.D. Otto, A. Pain, M. Berriman, J. McAuliffe, E.T. Dermitzakis, D.C. Jeffares
PLoS Genetics, 6(9): e1001099, (2010)
Plasmodium parasites, the causal agents of malaria, result in more than 1 million deaths annually. Plasmodium are unicellular eukaryotes with small ∼23 Mb genomes encoding ∼5200 protein-coding genes. The protein-coding genes comprise about half of these genomes. Although evolutionary processes have a significant impact on malaria control, the selective pressures within Plasmodium genomes are poorly understood, particularly in the non-protein-coding portion of the genome. We use evolutionary methods to describe selective processes in both the coding and non-coding regions of these genomes. Based on genome alignments of seven Plasmodium species, we show that protein-coding, intergenic and intronic regions are all subject to purifying selection and we identify 670 conserved non-genic elements. We then use genome-wide polymorphism data from P. falciparum to describe short-term selective processes in this species and identify some candidate genes for balancing (diversifying) selection. Our analyses suggest that there are many functional elements in the non-genic regions of these genomes and that adaptive evolution has occurred more frequently in the protein-coding regions of the genome.