Sarcocystis neurona is a terrestrial parasite that can cause fatal encephalitis in the endangered Southern sea otter (Enhydra lutris nereis). To date, neither risk factors associated with marine contamination nor the route of S. neurona infection to marine mammals has been described. This study evaluated coastal S. neurona contamination using California mussels (Mytilus californianus) as sentinels for pathogen pollution. A field investigation was designed to test the hypotheses that (1) mussels can serve as sentinels for S. neurona contamination, and (2) S. neurona contamination in mussels would be highest during the rainy season and in mussels collected near freshwater. Initial validation of molecular assays through sporocyst spiking experiments revealed the ITS-1500 assay to be most sensitive for detection of S. neurona, consistently yielding parasite amplification at concentrations 5 sporocysts/1 mL mussel haemolymph. Assays were then applied on 959 wild-caught mussels, with detection of S. neurona confirmed using sequence analysis in three mussels. Validated molecular assays for S. neurona detection in mussels provide a novel toolset for investigating marine contamination with this parasite, while confirmation of S. neurona in wild mussels suggests that uptake by invertebrates may serve as a route of transmission to susceptible marine animals.
- California mussels (Mytilus californianus)
- Sarcocystis neurona
- Sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis)
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Animal Science and Zoology
- Infectious Diseases