In the malaria parasite, its major blood-stage antigen, var genes, have 50-60 variants per parasite genome. In West Africa, there are over 10,000 variants circulating in local populations. How do pathogens evade immune responses through "smart strategies" of organizing the diversity of var genes within the genome and across the population? We present theory to identify signatures of immune selection using networks of genetic similarity that reveal non-neutral structures of var gene strains in an extensively sampled population in Bongo District (BD), Ghana. This work was done in collaboration with Prof. Karen Day's lab at the University of Melbourne.
Q. He, S. Pilosof, K. E. Tiedje, S. Ruybal-Pesántez, Y. Artzy-Randrup, E. B. Baskerville, K. P. Day & M. Pascual. Networks of genetic similarity reveal the role of non-neutral processes in shaping the strain structure of Plasmodium falciparum. Nature Communications, 2018