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The evolution of parasitism in Nematoda


Nematodes are abundant and diverse, and include many parasitic species. Molecular phylogenetic analyses have shown that parasitism of plants and animals has arisen at least 15 times independently. Extant nematode species also display lifestyles that are proposed to be on the evolutionary trajectory to parasitism. Recent advances have permitted the determination of the genomes and transcriptomes of many nematode species. These new data can be used to further resolve the phylogeny of Nematoda, and identify possible genetic patterns associated with parasitism. Plant-parasitic nematode genomes show evidence of horizontal gene transfer from other members of the rhizosphere, and these genes play important roles in the parasite-host interface. Similar horizontal transfer is not evident in animal parasitic groups. Many nematodes have bacterial symbionts that can be essential for survival. Horizontal transfer from symbionts to the nematode is also common, but its biological importance is unclear. Over 100 nematode species are currently targeted for sequencing, and these data will yield important insights into the biology and evolutionary history of parasitism. It is important that these new technologies are also applied to free-living taxa, so that the pre-parasitic ground state can be inferred, and the novelties associated with parasitism isolated.

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