Biological data support the hypothesis that there are multiple species in the genus Cryptosporidium, but a recent analysis of the available genetic data suggested that there is insufficient evidence for species differentiation. In order to resolve the controversy in the taxonomy of this parasite genus, we characterized the small-subunit rRNA genes of Cryptosporidium parvum, Cryptosporidium baileyi, Cryptosporidium muris, and Cryptosporidium serpentis and performed a phylogenetic analysis of the genus Cryptosporidium. Our study revealed that the genus Cryptosporidium contains the phylogenetically distinct species C. parvum, C. muris, C. baileyi, and C. serpentis, which is consistent with the biological characteristics and host specificity data. The Cryptosporidium species formed two clades, with C. parvum and C. baileyi belonging to one clade and C. muris and C. serpentis belonging to the other clade. Within C. parvum, human genotype isolates and guinea pig isolates (known as Cryptosporidium wrairi) each differed from bovine genotype isolates by the nucleotide sequence in four regions. A C. muris isolate from cattle was also different from parasites isolated from a rock hyrax and a Bactrian camel. Minor differences were also detected between C. serpentis isolates from snakes and lizards. Based on the genetic information, a species- and strain-specific PCR-restriction fragment length polymorphism diagnostic tool was developed
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