Cryptosporidium parvum has been associated with outbreaks of human illness by consumption of contaminated water, fresh fruits, and vegetables. Free-living nematodes may play a role in pathogen transmission in the environment. Caenorhabditis elegans is a free-living soil nematode that has been extensively studied and serves as a good model to study possible transmission of C. parvum oocysts that may come into contact with produce before harvest. The objective of this study was to determine whether C. elegans could serve as a potential mechanical vector for transport of infectious C. parvum and Cyclospora cayetanensis in agricultural settings and whether C. elegans could ingest, excrete, and protect oocysts from desiccation. Seventy to 85% of worms ingested between 0 and 500 oocysts after 1 and 2 hr incubation with oocysts. Most of the nematodes ingested between 101 and 200 oocysts after 2 hr. Intact oocysts and empty shells were excreted by nematodes. Infectivity was determined by the neonatal assay with different treatments of worms (intact or homogenized) or oocysts or both. Adult C. elegans containing C. parvum kept in water were infective for mice. In conclusion, C. elegans adults can ingest and excrete C. parvum oocysts. Caenorhabditis elegans containing C. parvum oocysts can infect mice but does not seem to protect oocysts from extreme desiccation at 23 C incubation of a day or longer. Cyclospora oocysts were not ingested by C. elegans. The role of free-living nematodes in produce contamination needs to be further examined.
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