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The genomes of protozoan parasites encode thousands of gene products and identification of the subset that stimulates a protective immune response is a daunting task. Most screens for vaccine candidates identify molecules by capacity to induce immune responses rather than protection. This paper describes the core findings of a strategy developed with the coccidial parasite Eimeria maxima to rationally identify loci within its genome that encode immunoprotective antigens. Our strategy uses a novel combination of parasite genetics, DNA fingerprinting, drug-resistance and strain-specific immunity and centres on two strains of E. maxima that each induce a lethal strain-specific protective immune response in the host and show a differential response to anti-Eimeria chemotherapy. Through classical mating studies with these strains we have demonstrated that loci encoding molecules stimulating strain-specific protective immunity or resistance to the anti-coccidial drug robenidine segregate independently. Furthermore, passage of populations of recombinant parasites in the face of killing in the immune host was accompanied by the elimination of some polymorphic DNA markers defining the parent strain used to immunise the host. Consideration of the numbers of parasites recombinant for the two traits implicates very few antigen-encoding loci. Our data provide a potential strategy to identify putative antigen-encoding loci in other parasites.

Original publication




Journal article


Mol Biochem Parasitol

Publication Date





143 - 152


Animals, Antigens, Protozoan, Chickens, Coccidiosis, Eimeria, Electrophoresis, Gel, Pulsed-Field, Polymorphism, Restriction Fragment Length, Poultry Diseases, Protozoan Vaccines, Recombination, Genetic