Sequence heterogeneity in the 18S rRNA gene within Theileria equi and Babesia caballi from horses in South Africa

Vet Parasitol. 2009 Feb 5;159(2):112-20. doi: 10.1016/j.vetpar.2008.10.004. Epub 2008 Oct 11.


A molecular epidemiological survey of the protozoal parasites that cause equine piroplasmosis was conducted using samples collected from horses and zebra from different geographical locations in South Africa. A total of 488 samples were tested for the presence of Theileria equi and/or Babesia caballi using the reverse line blot hybridization assay. Ten percent of the samples hybridized to the Theileria/Babesia genus-specific probe and not to the B. caballi or T. equi species-specific probes, suggesting the presence of a novel species or genotype. The small subunit of rRNA gene (18S; approximately 1600bp) was amplified and sequenced from 33 of these 488 samples. Sequences were compared with published sequences from the public sequence databases. Twelve distinct T. equi and six B. caballi 18S rRNA sequences were identified. Alignments demonstrated extensive sequence variation in the V4 hypervariable region of the 18S rRNA gene within T. equi. Sequence variation was also found in B. caballi 18S rRNA genes, although there was less variation than observed for T. equi. Phylogenetic analysis based on 18S rRNA gene sequences revealed three T. equi clades and two B. caballi clades in South Africa. The extent of sequence heterogeneity detected within T. equi and B. caballi 18S rRNA genes was unexpected since concerted evolution is thought to maintain homogeneity within repeated gene families, including rRNA genes, in eukaryotes. The findings reported here show that careful examination of variants of the 18S rRNA gene of T. equi and B. caballi is required prior to the development of molecular diagnostic tests to detect these parasites in horses. Species-specific probes must be in designed in regions of the gene that are both conserved within and unique to each species.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Babesia / genetics*
  • Babesiosis / epidemiology
  • Babesiosis / parasitology
  • Babesiosis / veterinary
  • Base Sequence
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Horse Diseases / epidemiology
  • Horse Diseases / parasitology*
  • Horses
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Phylogeny
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 18S / genetics*
  • South Africa / epidemiology
  • Theileria / genetics*
  • Theileriasis / epidemiology
  • Theileriasis / parasitology


  • RNA, Ribosomal, 18S