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Schistosoma species detection by environmental DNA assays in African freshwaters

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
JournalPLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases
DOIs
DateAccepted/In press - 10 Feb 2020

Abstract

Background
Schistosomiasis is a neglected tropical parasitic disease associated with severe pathology, mortality and economic loss worldwide. Programs for disease control may benefit from specific and sensitive diagnostic methods to detect Schistosoma trematodes in aquatic environments. Here we report the development of novel environmental DNA (eDNA) qPCR assays for the presence of the human-infecting species Schistosoma mansoni, S. haematobium and S. japonicum.

Methodology/Principal Findings
We first tested the specificity of the assays across the three species using genomic DNA preparations which showed successful amplification of target sequences with no cross amplification between the three focal species. In addition, we evaluated the specificity of the assays using synthetic DNA of multiple Schistosoma species, and demonstrated a high overall specificity; however, S. japonicum and S. haematobium assays showed cross-species amplification with very closely-related species. We next tested the effectiveness of the S. mansoni assay using eDNA samples from aquaria containing infected host gastropods, with the target species revealed as present in all infected aquaria. Finally, we evaluated the effectiveness of the S. mansoni and S. haematobium assays using eDNA samples from eight discrete natural freshwater sites in Tanzania, and demonstrated strong correspondence between infection status established using eDNA and conventional assays of parasite prevalence in host snails.

Conclusions/Significance
Collectively, our results suggest that eDNA monitoring is able to detect schistosomes in freshwater bodies, but refinement of the field sampling, storage and assay methods are likely to optimise its performance. We anticipate that environmental DNA-based approaches will help to inform epidemiological studies and contribute to efforts to control and eliminate schistosomiasis in endemic areas.

    Research areas

  • freshwater eDNA, eco-epidemiology, Schistosomatidae, freshwater gastropod hosts, Africa

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