High-resolution single-cell sequencing of malaria parasites
Trevino S., Nkhoma S., Nair S., Daniel B., Moncada K., Khoswe S., Banda R., Nosten F., Cheeseman I.
Single-cell genomics is a powerful tool for determining the genetic structure of complex communities of unicellular organisms. Patients infected with the malaria-causing parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, often carry multiple, genetically distinct parasites. Little is known about the diversity and relatedness of these lineages. We have developed an improved single-cell genomics protocol to reconstruct individual haplotypes from infections, a necessary step in uncovering parasite ecology within the host. This approach captures singly-infected red blood cells (iRBCs) by fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS) prior to whole genome amplification (WGA) and whole genome sequencing (WGS). Here, we demonstrate that parasites in late cell cycle stages, which contain increased DNA content, are far superior templates for generating high quality genomic data. Targeting of these cells routinely generates near-complete capture of the 23Mb P. falciparum genome (mean breadth of coverage 90.7%) at high efficiency. We used this approach to analyze the genomes of 48 individual cells from a polyclonal malaria infection sampled in Chikhwawa, Malawi. This comprehensive dataset enabled high-resolution estimation of the clonality and the relatedness of parasite haplotypes within the infection, long-standing problems in malaria biology.