Authors:Sándor Hornok, Alexandra Corduneanu, Jenő Kontschán, Katinka Bekő, Krisztina Szőke, Tamás Görföl, Miklós Gyuranecz and Attila D. Sándor
Babesia vesperuginis is the only piroplasm known to infect bats. Unlike most members of the genus Babesia, it is probably transmitted by a soft tick species (i.e. Argas vespertilionis). Recently, two studies have been conducted to clarify the phylogenetic status of this species, and both agreed on placing it into a basal position among Babesia sensu stricto (s.s.). However, several important groups of piroplasms were not included in the already reported phylogenetic trees of B. vesperuginis isolates. Therefore, the aim of the present study was to amplify an approx. 950-bp fragment of the cytochrome c oxidase subunit 1 (cox1) gene of B. vesperuginis from A. vespertilionis specimens, and to compare its sequences with those from other piroplasmid groups in a broader phylogenetic context. Sequence comparisons focusing on either 18S rRNA or cox1 genes, as well as phylogenetic analyses involving separate and concatenated 18S rRNA and cox1 sequences indicate that B. vesperuginis is more closely related to the phylogenetic group of Theileriidae than to Babesia s.s. In particular, B. vesperuginis clustered closest to Cytauxzoon felis and the ‘prototheilerid’ B. conradae. The results of this study highlight that B. vesperuginis is a unique and taxonomically important species, which should be included in future studies aimed at resolving the comprehensive phylogeny of Piroplasmida.