A global map of genetic diversity in Babesia microti reveals strong population structure and identifies variants associated with clinical relapse

Nat Microbiol. 2016 Jun 13;1(7):16079. doi: 10.1038/nmicrobiol.2016.79.


Human babesiosis caused by Babesia microti is an emerging tick-borne zoonosis of increasing importance due to its rising incidence and expanding geographic range(1). Infection with this organism, an intraerythrocytic parasite of the phylum Apicomplexa, causes a febrile syndrome similar to malaria(2). Relapsing disease is common among immunocompromised and asplenic individuals(3,4) and drug resistance has recently been reported(5). To investigate the origin and genetic diversity of this parasite, we sequenced the complete genomes of 42 B. microti samples from around the world, including deep coverage of clinical infections at endemic sites in the continental USA. Samples from the continental USA segregate into a Northeast lineage and a Midwest lineage, with subsequent divergence of subpopulations along geographic lines. We identify parasite variants that associate with relapsing disease, including amino acid substitutions in the atovaquone-binding regions of cytochrome b (cytb) and the azithromycin-binding region of ribosomal protein subunit L4 (rpl4). Our results shed light on the origin, diversity and evolution of B. microti, suggest possible mechanisms for clinical relapse, and create the foundation for further research on this emerging pathogen.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Substitution
  • Animals
  • Atovaquone / metabolism
  • Azithromycin / metabolism
  • Babesia microti / genetics*
  • Babesiosis / epidemiology
  • Babesiosis / parasitology*
  • Cytochromes b / genetics
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Genome, Protozoan*
  • High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing
  • Humans
  • Protein Binding
  • Recurrence
  • Ribosomal Proteins / metabolism
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Zoonoses


  • Ribosomal Proteins
  • ribosomal protein L4
  • Azithromycin
  • Cytochromes b
  • Atovaquone