Evolutionary origin of Plasmodium and other Apicomplexa based on rRNA genes

Ananias A. Escalante, Francisco J. Ayala

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

187 Scopus citations


We have explored the evolutionary history of the Apicomplexa and two related protistan phyla, Dinozoa and Ciliophora, by comparing the nucleotide sequences of small subunit ribosomal RNA genes. We conclude that the Plasmodium lineage, to which the malarial parasites belong, diverged from other apicomplexan lineages (piroplasmids and coccidians) several hundred million years ago, perhaps even before the Cambrian. The Plasmodium radiation, which gave rise to several species parasitic to humans, occurred ≃129 million years ago; Plasmodium parasitism of humans has independently arisen several times. The origin of apicomplexans (Plasmodium), dinoflagellates, and ciliates may be > 1 billion years old, perhaps older than the three multicellular kingdoms of animals, plants, and fungi. Digenetic parasitism independently evolved several times in the Apicomplexa.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5793-5797
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number13
StatePublished - Jun 20 1995
Externally publishedYes


  • coccidia
  • dinoflagellates
  • molecular evolution
  • origin of malaria
  • protist evolution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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