Background: Host-parasite coevolution can result in balancing selection, which maintains genetic variation in the susceptibility of hosts to parasites. It has been suggested that variation in a thioester-containing protein called TEP1 (AGAP010815) may alter the ability of Anopheles mosquitoes to transmit Plasmodium parasites, and high divergence between alleles of this gene suggests the possible action of long-term balancing selection. We studied whether TEP1 is a case of an ancient balanced polymorphism in an animal immune system.
Results: We found evidence that the high divergence between TEP1 alleles is the product of genetic exchange between TEP1 and other TEP loci, i.e. gene conversion. Additionally, some TEP1 alleles showed unexpectedly low variability.
Conclusion: The TEP1 gene appears to be a chimera produced from at least two other TEP loci, and the divergence between TEP1 alleles is probably not caused by long-term balancing selection, but is instead due to two independent gene conversion events from one of these other genes. Nevertheless, TEP1 still shows evidence of natural selection, in particular there appears to have been recent changes in the frequency of alleles that has diminished polymorphism within each allelic class. Although the selective force driving this dynamic was not identified, given that susceptibility to Plasmodium parasites is known to be associated with allelic variation in TEP1, these changes in allele frequencies could alter the vectoring capacity of populations.