Data on the geographic distribution and host specificity of Cryptosporidium spp. are critical for developing an understanding of likely transmission patterns in nature. During a molecular-based survey of fecal samples from 293 terrestrial and aquatic animals in Maine, USA, we detected Cryptosporidium sp. in 11 harbor seals (Phoca vitulina), 1 hooded seal (Cystophora cristata), and 1 harp seal (Pagophilus groenlandicus). None of the terrestrial or freshwater mammal fecal samples or bird samples tested positive for Cryptosporidium sp. However, the sequencing results of the small subunit (ssu) rRNA gene indicate that the seals were infected with an undescribed species of Cryptosporidium, previously isolated only from ringed seals (Phoca hispida) in northern Quebec, Canada. In addition, the Cryptosporidium sp. detected in the harp seal is significantly different from the previously observed Cryptosporidium sp. in other seals. We confirmed the genetic distinctiveness of this Cryptosporidium genotype and the identity of the other Cryptosporidium sp. seal ssu rRNA sequences by using data from the 70-kDa heat shock protein gene. Based on phylogenetic reconstructions of both genes, it seems that either Cryptosporidium canis or C. felis are sister species to the seal associated Cryptosporidium spp. Our findings extend the range of “Cryptosporidium sp. seal” well south of the 55th parallel, add other species to the list of seals affected by Cryptosporidium sp., and highlight the presence of unrecognized population and potentially species level variation in Cryptosporidium.
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Vol. 98 • No. 2