DAO 49:61-70 (2002)  -  doi:10.3354/dao049061

Development of an 18S rRNA gene targeted PCR based diagnostic for the blue crab parasite Hematodinium sp.

Tomas Gruebl, Marc E. Frischer, Michael Sheppard, Monika Neumann, Andreas N. Maurer, Richard F. Lee*

Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, 10 Ocean Science Circle, Savannah, Georgia 31411, USA
*Corresponding author. E-mail:

ABSTRACT: The 18S rRNA gene from Hematodinum sp., a parasitic dinoflagellate that infects blue crabs, was amplified, cloned, and sequenced. The sequence showed a high similarity (95% at the nucleotide level) to sequences obtained from other dinoflagellate species, including both free-living and symbiotic species. Sequence similarity was much lower when compared with parasites of other marine invertebrates with similar life histories and with the 18S rRNA gene from the blue crab. Based on comparison of sequence alignments between Hematodinium, other dinoflagellate species, protozoan pathogens of oysters, and blue crab 18S rRNA gene sequences, 2 sets of PCR primers that specifically amplified fragments of the Hematodinium 18S rRNA gene were developed and tested. One of these primer sets (Hemat-F-1487 and Hemat-R-1654) amplified a 187 bp fragment that could be used routinely as a diagnostic test for the presence of Hematodinium in hemolymph from blue crabs. This fragment was consistently amplified from genomic DNA extracted from hemolymph of Hematodinium infected blue crabs. Comparison between the PCR technique and standard histological examination indicated that the PCR technique was reliable and provided 1000 times more sensitivity than the histological methods. The sensitivity of the PCR diagnostic was estimated to be one parasite cell among 300000 crab hemocytes. Preliminary studies using the PCR diagnostic technique suggest that Hematodinium sp. is absent in crabs collected from waters with low salinity (5 to 10 ppt), but common in crabs from higher salinity environments in estuarine waters from southeastern Georgia (USA).

KEY WORDS: Blue crab · PCR · Hermatodinium · 18S ribosomal RNA

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