New, more sensitive test developed to detect protozoan infections in animals

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Piroplasmosis infections take a heavy toll on horses and cattle around the globe. Photo: Steven Glenn/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/Laboratory & Consultation Division
Babesia infections take a heavy toll on horses and cattle around the globe. Photo: Steven Glenn/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/Laboratory & Consultation Division

An improved molecular-based test for detecting protozoan infections in animals has been developed by American researchers.

The North Carolina State University study team says the new method is more sensitive than established laboratory methods and can target a wider range of species.

They have described their new protocol in the journal Parasites & Vectors.

Babesiosis, sometimes referred to as piroplasmosis, is a protozoan, tick-transmitted disease found worldwide in humans, wildlife and domesticated animals, including horses.

Common approaches to diagnose it include microscopic examination of blood smears, detection of circulating antibodies, and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing – a technique used in molecular biology to amplify and identify a single copy or a few copies of a piece of DNA.

To screen and differentiate Babesia infections in dogs, many PCR tests amplified the 18S rRNA gene, the authors noted.

However, differences in the 18S rRNA gene sequence of distantly related groups can make it difficult to design tests that will amplify all Babesia species to allow identification.

By targeting the Babesia mitochondrial genome, Barbara Qurollo and her colleagues designed a new PCR test with greater sensitivity and broader screening capabilities to diagnose and differentiate Babesia species.

The new test was assessed on a range of Babesia species. Its efficiency ranged between 92 and 100%.

They said they had developed a more sensitive molecular-based test which covered a more expansive range of Babesia species by targeting a highly conserved region of mitochondrial DNA, when compared to established testing that targeted the 18S rRNA gene.

The researchers comprised Qurollo, Nikole Archer, Megan Schreeg, Henry Marr, Adam Birkenheuer, Kaitlin Haney, Brittany Thomas and Edward Breitschwerdt.

Improved molecular detection of Babesia infections in animals using a novel quantitative real-time PCR diagnostic assay targeting mitochondrial DNA
Barbara A. Qurollo, Nikole R. Archer, Megan E. Schreeg, Henry S. Marr, Adam J. Birkenheuer, Kaitlin N. Haney, Brittany S. Thomas and Edward B. Breitschwerdt.
Parasites & Vectors 2017 10:128 DOI: 10.1186/s13071-017-2064-1

The study, published under a Creative Commons License, can be read here.

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