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Habitat modification may facilitate the emergence of novel pathogens, and the expansion of agricultural frontiers make domestic animals important sources of pathogen spillover to wild animals. We demonstrate for the first time that Plasmodium juxtanucleare, a widespread parasite from domestic chickens, naturally infects free-living passerines. We sampled 68 wild birds within and at the border of conservation units in central Brazil composed by Cerrado, a highly threatened biome. Seven out of 10 passerines captured in the limits of a protected area with a small farm were infected by P. juxtanucleare as was confirmed by sequencing a fragment of the parasite's cytochrome b. Blood smears from these positive passerines presented trophozoites, meronts and gametocytes compatible with P. juxtanucleare, meaning these birds are competent hosts for this parasite. After these intriguing results, we sampled 30 backyard chickens managed at the area where P. juxtanucleare-infected passerines were captured, revealing one chicken infected by the same parasite lineage. We sequenced the almost complete mitochondrial genome from all positive passerines, revealing that Brazilian and Asian parasites are closely related. P. juxtanucleare can be lethal to non-domestic hosts under captive and rehabilitation conditions, suggesting that this novel spillover may pose a real threat to wild birds.
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