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Cell shape is one, often overlooked, way in which protozoan parasites have adapted to a variety of host and vector environments and directional transmissions between these environments. Consequently, different parasite life cycle stages have characteristic morphologies. Trypanosomatid parasites are an excellent example of this in which large morphological variations between species and life cycle stage occur, despite sharing well-conserved cytoskeletal and membranous structures. Here, using previously published reports in the literature of the morphology of 248 isolates of trypanosomatid species from different hosts, we perform a meta-analysis of the occurrence and limits on morphological diversity of different classes of trypanosomatid morphology (trypomastigote, promastigote, etc.) in the vertebrate bloodstream and invertebrate gut environments. We identified several limits on cell body length, cell body width and flagellum length diversity which can be interpreted as biomechanical limits on the capacity of the cell to attain particular dimensions. These limits differed for morphologies with and without a laterally attached flagellum which we suggest represent two morphological superclasses, the 'juxtaform' and 'liberform' superclasses. Further limits were identified consistent with a selective pressure from the mechanical properties of the vertebrate bloodstream environment; trypanosomatid size showed limits relative to host erythrocyte dimensions. This is the first comprehensive analysis of the limits of morphological diversity in any protozoan parasite, revealing the morphogenetic constraints and extrinsic selection pressures associated with the full diversity of trypanosomatid morphology.

Original publication

DOI

10.1371/journal.pone.0079581

Type

Journal article

Journal

PLoS One

Publication Date

2013

Volume

8

Keywords

Animals, Host-Parasite Interactions, Life Cycle Stages, Phylogeny, Trypanosoma