Phylogenomic reconstruction supports supercontinent origins for Leishmania

Kelly M. Harkins, Rachel S. Schwartz, Reed A. Cartwright, Anne C. Stone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


Leishmania, a genus of parasites transmitted to human hosts and mammalian/reptilian reservoirs by an insect vector, is the causative agent of the human disease complex leishmaniasis. The evolutionary relationships within the genus Leishmania and its origins are the source of ongoing debate, reflected in conflicting phylogenetic and biogeographic reconstructions. This study employs a recently described bioinformatics method, SISRS, to identify over 200,000 informative sites across the genome from newly sequenced and publicly available Leishmania data. This dataset is used to reconstruct the evolutionary relationships of this genus. Additionally, we constructed a large multi-gene dataset, using it to reconstruct the phylogeny and estimate divergence dates for species. We conclude that the genus Leishmania evolved at least 90-100. million. years ago, supporting a modified version of the Multiple Origins hypothesis that we call the Supercontinent hypothesis. According to this scenario, separate Leishmania clades emerged prior to, and during, the breakup of Gondwana. Additionally, we confirm that reptile-infecting Leishmania are derived from mammalian forms and that the species that infect porcupines and sloths form a clade long separated from other species. Finally, we firmly place the guinea-pig infecting species, Leishmania enriettii, the globally dispersed Leishmania siamensis, and the newly identified Australian species from a kangaroo, as sibling species whose distribution arises from the ancient connection between Australia, Antarctica, and South America.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)101-109
Number of pages9
JournalInfection, Genetics and Evolution
StatePublished - Mar 1 2016


  • Evolution
  • Leishmania
  • Phylogenomics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Infectious Diseases


Dive into the research topics of 'Phylogenomic reconstruction supports supercontinent origins for Leishmania'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this