Population genetics of Toxoplasma gondii: new perspectives from parasite genotypes in wildlife

Vet Parasitol. 2011 Nov 24;182(1):96-111. doi: 10.1016/j.vetpar.2011.07.018. Epub 2011 Jul 20.


Toxoplasma gondii, a zoonotic protozoal parasite, is well-known for its global distribution and its ability to infect virtually all warm-blooded vertebrates. Nonetheless, attempts to describe the population structure of T. gondii have been primarily limited to samples isolated from humans and domesticated animals. More recent studies, however, have made efforts to characterize T. gondii isolates from a wider range of host species and geographic locales. These findings have dramatically changed our perception of the extent of genetic diversity in T. gondii and the relative roles of sexual recombination and clonal propagation in the parasite's lifecycle. In particular, identification of novel, disease-causing T. gondii strains in wildlife has raised concerns from both a conservation and public health perspective as to whether distinct domestic and sylvatic parasite gene pools exist. If so, overlap of these cycles may represent regions of high probability of disease emergence. Here, we attempt to answer these key questions by reviewing recent studies of T. gondii infections in wildlife, highlighting those which have advanced our understanding of the genetic diversity and population biology of this important zoonotic pathogen.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Wild
  • DNA, Protozoan / chemistry
  • DNA, Protozoan / genetics
  • Genetic Variation
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Phylogeny
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Polymorphism, Restriction Fragment Length / genetics
  • Toxoplasma / genetics*
  • Toxoplasmosis, Animal / epidemiology
  • Toxoplasmosis, Animal / parasitology*
  • Zoonoses / epidemiology
  • Zoonoses / parasitology*


  • DNA, Protozoan