Gene expression patterns have been demonstrated to be highly variable between similar cell types, for example lab strains and wild strains of Saccharomyces cerevisiae cultured under identical growth conditions exhibit a wide range of expression differences. We have used a genome-wide approach to characterize transcriptional differences between strains of Plasmodium falciparum by characterizing the transcriptome of the 48 h intraerythrocytic developmental cycle (IDC) for two strains, 3D7 and Dd2 and compared these results to our prior work using the HB3 strain. These three strains originate from geographically diverse locations and possess distinct drug sensitivity phenotypes. Our goal was to identify transcriptional differences related to phenotypic properties of these strains including immune evasion and drug sensitivity. We find that the highly streamlined transcriptome is remarkably well conserved among all three strains, and differences in gene expression occur mainly in genes coding for surface antigens involved in parasite-host interactions. Our analysis also detects several transcripts that are unique to individual strains as well as identifying large chromosomal deletions and highly polymorphic regions across strains. The majority of these genes are uncharacterized and have no homology to other species. These tractable transcriptional differences provide important phenotypes for these otherwise highly related strains of Plasmodium.
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