Concentration and retention of Toxoplasma gondii oocysts by marine snails demonstrate a novel mechanism for transmission of terrestrial zoonotic pathogens in coastal ecosystems

Colin Krusor, Woutrina A Smith, M. Tim Tinker, Mary Silver, Patricia A Conrad, Karen Shapiro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

9 Scopus citations


The parasite Toxoplasma gondii is an environmentally persistent pathogen that can cause fatal disease in humans, terrestrial warm-blooded animals and aquatic mammals. Although an association between T.gondii exposure and prey specialization on marine snails was identified in threatened California sea otters, the ability of kelp-dwelling snails to transmit terrestrially derived pathogens has not been previously investigated. The objective of this study was to measure concentration and retention of T.gondii by marine snails in laboratory aquaria, and to test for natural T. gondii contamination in field-collected snails. Following exposure to T. gondii-containing seawater, oocysts were detected by microscopy in snail faeces and tissues for 10 and 3 days respectively. Nested polymerase chain reaction was also applied as a method for confirming putative T.gondii oocysts detected in snail faeces and tissues by microscopy. Toxoplasma gondii was not detected in field-collected snails. Results suggest that turban snails are competent transport hosts for T. gondii. By concentrating oocysts in faecal pellets, snails may facilitate entry of T. gondii into the nearshore marine food web. This novel mechanism also represents a general pathway by which marine transmission of terrestrially derived microorganisms can be mediated via pathogen concentration and retention by benthic invertebrates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4527-4537
Number of pages11
JournalEnvironmental Microbiology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2015


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics

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