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Environmental DNA-based xenomonitoring for determining Schistosoma presence in tropical freshwaters

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Article number63 (2020)
Number of pages11
JournalParasites and Vectors
DateAccepted/In press - 3 Feb 2020
DatePublished (current) - 12 Feb 2020


Background: Schistosomiasis is a neglected tropical disease that infects over 200 million people worldwide. Control measures can benefit from improved surveillance methods in freshwaters, with environmental DNA (eDNA) surveys having the potential to offer effective and rapid detection of schistosomes. However, sampling eDNA directly from natural water bodies can lead to inaccurate estimation of infection risk if schistosome eDNA is rare in the environment. Here we report a xenomonitoring method that allows schistosome infections of host snail species to be determined from eDNA in water used to house those snails.

Methods: Host snail species were collected and placed in containers of water and allowed to shed cercariae, and then water samples were filtered and tested using qPCR assays specific to the African species Schistosoma mansoni and Schistosoma haematobium. We evaluated this “eDNA-based xenomonitoring” approach by experimentally comparing the results to those obtained from direct qPCR screening of tissue sourced from the snails in the experiment.

Results: We found that our method accurately diagnosed the presence of S. mansoni-infected snails in all tests, and S. haematobium-infected snails in 92% of tests. Moreover, we found that the abundance of Schistosoma eDNA in experiments was directly dependent on the number and biomass of infected snails.

Conclusions: These results provide a strong indication that this surveillance method combining the utility of eDNA-based monitoring with the reliability of traditional xenomonitoring approaches could be used to accurately assay the presence of Schistosoma species in natural habitats. This approach may be well-suited for epidemiological studies and monitoring in endemic areas, where it can assist schistosomiasis control by indicating infection risk from freshwaters and guiding necessary interventions to eliminate the disease.

    Research areas

  • Schistosomatidae, freshwater eDNA, African freshwater body, detection and quantification level

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