Quantifying the relative proportion of coexisting genotypes (clones) of a malaria parasite within its vertebrate host's blood would provide insights into critical features of the biology of the parasite, including competition among clones, gametocyte sex ratio, and virulence. However, no technique has been available to extract such data for natural parasite-host systems when the number of clones cycling in the overall parasite population is likely to be large. Recent studies find that data from genetic analyzer instruments for microsatellite markers allow measuring clonal proportions. We conducted a validation study for Plasmodium mexicanum and Plasmodium falciparum by mixing DNA from single-clone infections to simulate mixed infections of each species with known proportions of clones. Results for any mixture of DNA gave highly reproducible results. The relationship between known and measured relative proportions of clones was linear, with high regression r2 values. Known and measured clone proportions for simulated infections followed over time (mixtures) were compared with 3 methods: using uncorrected data, with uncorrected data and confidence intervals constructed from observed experimental error, and using a baseline mixture of equal proportions to calibrate all other results. All 3 methods demonstrated value in studies of mixed-genotype infections sampled a single time or followed over time. Thus, the method should open new windows into the biology of malaria parasites.
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