Anopheles gambiae M and S molecular forms, the major malaria vectors in the Afro-tropical region, are ongoing a process of ecological diversification and adaptive lineage splitting, which is affecting malaria transmission and vector control strategies in West Africa. These two incipient species are defined on the basis of single nucleotide differences in the IGS and ITS regions of multicopy rDNA located on the X-chromosome. A number of PCR and PCR-RFLP approaches based on form-specific SNPs in the IGS region are used for M and S identification. Moreover, a PCR-method to detect the M-specific insertion of a short interspersed transposable element (SINE200) has recently been introduced as an alternative identification approach. However, a large-scale comparative analysis of four widely used PCR or PCR-RFLP genotyping methods for M and S identification was never carried out to evaluate whether they could be used interchangeably, as commonly assumed.
The main Afrotropical malaria vector, Anopheles gambiae sensu stricto, is undergoing a process of sympatric ecological diversification leading to at least two incipient species (the M and S molecular forms) showing heterogeneous levels of divergence across the genome. The physically unlinked centromeric regions on all three chromosomes of these closely related taxa contain fixed nucleotide differences which have been found in nearly complete linkage disequilibrium in geographic areas of no or low M-S hybridization. Assays diagnostic for SNP and structural differences between M and S forms in the three centromeric regions were applied in samples from the western extreme of their range of sympatry, the only area where high frequencies of putative M/S hybrids have been reported. The results reveal a level of admixture not observed in the rest of the range. In particular, we found: i) heterozygous genotypes at each marker, although at frequencies lower than expected under panmixia; ii) virtually all possible genotypic combinations between markers on different chromosomes, although genetic association was nevertheless detected; iii) discordant M and S genotypes at two X-linked markers near the centromere, suggestive of introgression and inter-locus recombination. These results could be indicative either of a secondary contact zone between M and S, or of the maintenance of ancestral polymorphisms. This issue and the perspectives opened by these results in the study of the M and S incipient speciation process are discussed.
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