DAO 48:175-185 (2002)  -  doi:10.3354/dao048175

Detection and identification of bacterial pathogens of fish in kidney tissue using terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism (T-RFLP) analysis of 16S rRNA genes

William B. Nilsson, Mark S. Strom*

Northwest Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, United States Department of Commerce, 2725 Montlake Boulevard E., Seattle, Washington 98112, USA
*Corresponding author. E-mail:

ABSTRACT: We report the application of a nucleic acid-based assay that enables direct detection and identification of bacterial pathogens in fish kidney tissue without the need for bacterial culture. The technique, known as terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism (T-RFLP), employs the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) using a primer pair that targets 2 highly conserved regions of the gene that encodes for the 16S small subunit of the bacterial ribosome. Each primer is 5ยน labeled with a different fluorescent dye, which results in each terminus of the resulting amplicon having a distinguishable fluorescent tag. The amplicon is then digested with a series of 6 restriction endonucleases, followed by size determination of the 2 labeled terminal fragments by capillary electrophoresis with laser-induced fluorescence detection. Comparison of the lengths of the full set of 12 terminal fragments with those predicted based on analyses of GenBank submissions of 16S sequences leads to presumptive identification of the pathogen to at least the genus, but more typically the species level. Results of T-RFLP analyses of genomic DNA from multiple strains of a number of fish bacterial pathogens are presented. The assay is further demonstrated on fish kidney tissue spiked with a known number of cells of Flavobacterium psychrophilum where a detection limit of ca. 30 CFU mg-1 of tissue was estimated. A similar detection limit was observed for several other Gram-negative pathogens. This procedure was also used to detect Aeromonas salmonicida and Renibacterium salmoninarum in the kidney tissue of 2 naturally infected salmonids.


KEY WORDS: Terminal restriction length polymorphism · T-RFLP · Bacteria · Universal detection · Bacterial pathogen identification


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