A fluorescent in situ hybridization assay has been developed for the detection of the human-pathogenic microsporidian, Encephalitozoon hellem in water samples using epifluorescence microscopy. The assay employs a 19-nucleotide species-specific 6-carboxyfluorescein-labeled oligonucleotide probe, HEL878F, designed to be complementary to the nucleic acid sequence 878–896, a highly variable segment of the 16S ribosomal RNA of E. hellem spores. The specificity of this probe for its ribosomal RNA target site was confirmed using RNA degradation, ribosomal RNA target site competition, and nucleotide base mismatch control probe assays. Furthermore, the specificity of the HEL878F oligonucleotide probe for E. hellem spores was established when it was evaluated on spores from all three species of the genus Encephalitozoon that had been seeded in reagent water and environmental water concentrates. The specificity of the HEL878F oligonucleotide probe was further corroborated when tested on algae, bacteria, and protozoa commonly found in environmental water. The study demonstrates the applicability of a fluorescent in situ hybridization assay using a species-specific fluorescent-labeled oligonucleotide probe for the detection of E. hellem spores in water samples.
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Vol. 47 • No. 3