The Genomes of Onchocerca Volvulus

Thomas R. Unnasch, The University of Alabama at Birmingham
Steven A. Williams, Smith College

Peer reviewed accepted manuscript.


Onchocerca volvulus, the filarial parasite that causes onchocerciasis or river blindness, contains three distinct genomes. These include the nuclear genome, the mitochondrial genome and the genome of an intracellular endosymbiont of the genus Wolbachia. The nuclear genome is roughly 1.5x108bp in size, and is arranged on four chromosome pairs. Analysis of expressed sequence tags from different life-cycle stages has resulted in the identification of transcripts from roughly 4000 O. volvulus genes. Several of these transcripts are highly abundant, including those encoding collagen and cuticular proteins. Analysis of several gene sequences from O. volvulus suggests that the nuclear genes of O. volvulus are relatively compact and are interrupted relatively frequently by small introns. The intron-exon boundaries of these genes generally follow the GU-AG rule characteristic of the splice donor and acceptors of other vertebrate organisms. The nuclear genome also contains at least one repeated sequence family of a 150bp repeat which is arranged in tandem arrays and appears subject to concerted evolution. The mitochondrial genome of O. volvulus is remarkably compact, only 13 747bp in size. Consistent with the small size of the genome, four gene pairs overlap, eight contain no intergenic regions and the remaining gene pairs are separated by small intergenic domains ranging from 1 to 46bp. The protein-coding genes of the O. volvulus mitochondrial genome exhibit a striking codon bias, with 15/20 amino acids having a single codon preference greater than 70%.Intraspecific variation in both the nuclear and mitochondrial genomes appears to be quite limited, consistent with the hypothesis that O. volvulus has suffered a genetic bottleneck in the recent past. Copyright (C) 2000 Australian Society for Parasitology Inc.