Parasitology. 2014 Sep 26:1-14. [Epub ahead of print]
SUMMARY The Apicomplexa is a phylum of parasitic protozoa, which includes the malaria parasite Plasmodium, amongst other species that can devastate human and animal health. The past decade has seen the release of genome sequences for many of the most important apicomplexan species, providing an excellent basis for improving our understanding of their biology. One of the key features of each genome is a unique set of large, variant gene families. Although closely related species share the same families, even different types of malaria parasite have distinct families. In some species they tend to be found at the ends of chromosomes, which may facilitate aspects of gene expression regulation and generation of sequence diversity. In others they are scattered apparently randomly across chromosomes. For some families there is evidence they are involved in antigenic variation, immune regulation and immune evasion. For others there are no known functions. Even where function is unknown these families are most often predicted to be exposed to the host, contain much sequence diversity and evolve rapidly. Based on these properties it is clear that they are at the forefront of host-parasite interactions. In this review I compare and contrast the genomic context, gene structure, gene expression, protein localization and function of these families across different species.
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