Genetic crosses within and between species of Cryptosporidium

Sebastian Shaw, Ian S. Cohn, Rodrigo P. Baptista, Guoqin Xia, Bruno Melillo, Fiifi Agyabeng-Dadzie, Jessica C. Kissinger, Boris Striepen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Parasites and their hosts are engaged in rapid coevolution that balances competing mechanisms of virulence, resistance, and evasion. This often leads to host specificity, but genomic reassortment between different strains can enable parasites to jump host barriers and conquer new niches. In the apicomplexan parasite Cryptosporidium genetic exchange has been hypothesized to play a prominent role in adaptation to humans. The sexual lifecycle of the parasite provides a potential mechanism for such exchange; however, the boundaries of Cryptosporidium sex are currently undefined. To explore this experimentally, we established a model for genetic crosses. Drug resistance was engineered using a mutated phenylalanyl tRNA synthetase gene and marking strains with this and the previously used Neo transgene enabled selection of recombinant progeny. This is highly efficient, and genomic recombination is evident and can be continuously monitored in real time by drug resistance, flow cytometry, and PCR mapping. Using this approach multiple loci can now be modified with ease. We demonstrate that essential genes can be ablated by crossing a Cre recombinase driver strain with floxed strains. We further find that genetic crosses are also feasible between species. Crossing C. parvum, a parasite of cattle and humans, and C. tyzzeri a mouse parasite resulted in progeny with a recombinant genome derived from both species that continues to vigorously replicate sexually. These experiments have important fundamental and translational implications for the evolution of Cryptosporidium and open the door to reverse- and forward- genetic analysis of parasite biology and host specificity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2313210120
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2024


  • Apicomplexa
  • diarrheal disease
  • genetic cross
  • parasite
  • sex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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