Increased reporting of amphibian malformations in North America has been noted with concern in light of reports that amphibian numbers and species are declining worldwide. Ribeiroia ondatrae has been shown to cause a variety of types of malformations in amphibians. However, little is known about the prevalence of R. ondatrae in North America. To aid in conducting field studies of Ribeiroia spp., we have developed a polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based diagnostic. Herein, we describe the development of an accurate, rapid, simple, and cost-effective diagnostic for detection of Ribeiroia spp. infection in snails (Planorbella trivolvis). Candidate oligonucleotide primers for PCR were designed via DNA sequence analyses of multiple ribosomal internal transcribed spacer-2 regions from Ribeiroia spp. and Echinostoma spp. Comparison of consensus sequences determined from both genera identified areas of sequence potentially unique to Ribeiroia spp. The PCR reliably produced a diagnostic 290-base pair (bp) product in the presence of a wide concentration range of snail or frog DNA. Sensitivity was examined with DNA extracted from single R. ondatrae cercaria. The single-tube PCR could routinely detect less than 1 cercariae equivalent, because DNA isolated from a single cercaria could be diluted at least 1:50 and still yield a positive result via gel electrophoresis. An even more sensitive nested PCR also was developed that routinely detected 100 fg of the 290-bp fragment. The assay did not detect furcocercous cercariae of certain Schistosomatidae, Echinostoma sp., or Sphaeridiotrema globulus nor adults of Clinostomum sp. or Cyathocotyle bushiensis. Field testing of 137 P. trivolvis identified 3 positives with no overt environmental cross-reactivity, and results concurred with microscopic examinations in all cases.
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