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BackgroundGenetic markers are employed widely in molecular studies, and their utility depends on the degree of sequence variation, which dictates the type of application for which they are suited. Consequently, the suitability of a genetic marker for any specific application is complicated by its properties and usage across studies. To provide a yardstick for future users, in this study we assess the suitability of genetic markers for molecular systematics and species identification in helminths and provide an estimate of the cut-off genetic distances per taxonomic level.MethodsWe assessed four classes of genetic markers, namely nuclear ribosomal internal transcribed spacers, nuclear rRNA, mitochondrial rRNA and mitochondrial protein-coding genes, based on certain properties that are important for species identification and molecular systematics. For molecular identification, these properties are inter-species sequence variation; length of reference sequences; easy alignment of sequences; and easy to design universal primers. For molecular systematics, the properties are: average genetic distance from order/suborder to species level; the number of monophyletic clades at the order/suborder level; length of reference sequences; easy alignment of sequences; easy to design universal primers; and absence of nucleotide substitution saturation. Estimation of the cut-off genetic distances was performed using the 'K-means' clustering algorithm.ResultsThe nuclear rRNA genes exhibited the lowest sequence variation, whereas the mitochondrial genes exhibited relatively higher variation across the three groups of helminths. Also, the nuclear and mitochondrial rRNA genes were the best possible genetic markers for helminth molecular systematics, whereas the mitochondrial protein-coding and rRNA genes were suitable for molecular identification. We also revealed that a general gauge of genetic distances might not be adequate, using evidence from the wide range of genetic distances among nematodes.ConclusionThis study assessed the suitability of DNA genetic markers for application in molecular systematics and molecular identification of helminths. We provide a novel way of analyzing genetic distances to generate suitable cut-off values for each taxonomic level using the 'K-means' clustering algorithm. The estimated cut-off genetic distance values, together with the summary of the utility and limitations of each class of genetic markers, are useful information that can benefit researchers conducting molecular studies on helminths.

Original publication

DOI

10.1186/s13071-021-04737-y

Type

Journal

Parasites & vectors

Publication Date

05/2021

Volume

14

Addresses

Department of Helminthology, Faculty of Tropical Medicine, Mahidol University, Bangkok, Thailand.