Leishmaniases remain a major public health problem today despite the vast amount of research conducted on Leishmania pathogens. The biological model is genetically and ecologically complex. This paper explores the advances in Leishmania genetics and reviews population structure, taxonomy, epidemiology and pathogenicity. Current knowledge of Leishmania genetics is placed in the context of natural populations. Various studies have described a clonal structure for Leishmania but recombination, pseudo-recombination and other genetic processes have also been reported. The impact of these different models on epidemiology and the medical aspects of leishmaniases is considered from an evolutionary point of view. The role of these parasites in the expression of pathogenicity in humans is also explored. It is important to ascertain whether genetic variability of the parasites is related to the different clinical expressions of leishmaniasis. The review aims to put current knowledge of Leishmania and the leishmaniases in perspective and to underline priority questions which 'leishmaniacs' must answer in various domains: epidemiology, population genetics, taxonomy and pathogenicity. It concludes by presenting a number of feasible ways of responding to these questions. © 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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