DAO 60:65-76 (2004)  -  doi:10.3354/dao060065

18S ribosomal DNA-based PCR identification of Neoparamoeba pemaquidensis, the agent of amoebic gill disease in sea-farmed salmonids

Frank Y. K. Wong1, Jeremy Carson2, Nicholas G. Elliott1,*

1Aquaculture and Biotechnology, CSIRO Marine Research, GPO Box 1538, Hobart 7001, Tasmania, Australia
2Fish Health Unit of the Tasmanian Aquaculture and Fisheries Institute, University of Tasmania, PO Box 46, Kings Meadows 7249, Tasmania, Australia
*Corresponding author. Email:

ABSTRACT: Neoparamoeba pemaquidensis is a parasomal amoeboid protozoan identified as the agent of amoebic gill disease (AGD) in Atlantic salmon Salmo salar reared in sea-pens in Tasmania, Australia, and coho salmon Oncorhynchus kisutch farmed on the west coast of the USA. Outbreaks of AGD caused by immunologically cross-reactive paramoebae have also been reported in sea-farmed salmonids in several other countries. Complete 18S rDNA sequences were determined for respective paramoebae isolated from infected gills of salmon from Tasmania and Ireland, and N. pemaquidensis isolates from the USA and UK, including representative free-living isolates. Alignments over 2110 bp revealed 98.1 to 99.0% sequence similarities among isolates, confirming that paramoebae implicated in AGD in geographically distant countries were homologous and belonged to the same species, N. pemaquidensis. The results supported previous findings that N. pemaquidensis exists as a widely distributed, amphizoic marine protozoan. Partial 18S rDNA sequences were obtained for the ultrastructurally similar species, N. aestuarina, and for the morphologically similar but non-parasomal amoeba Pseudoparamoeba pagei. N. aestuarina had 95.3 to 95.7% sequence similarities with N. pemaquidensis strains, which distinguished 2 closely related but separate species. Neoparamoeba spp. were not analogous to P. pagei or to other marine Gymnamoebia. We designed 4 oligonucleotide primers based on elucidated 18S rDNA sequences and applied them to single-step and nested 2-step PCR protocols developed to identify N. pemaquidensis to the exclusion of apparently closely related and non-related protistan taxa. Nested PCR was able to detect the AGD parasite from non-purified, culture-enriched net microfouling samples from Atlantic salmon sea-pens in Tasmania, and confirmed that N. pemaquidensis was also responsible for AGD in chinook salmon O. tshawytscha in New Zealand. Our sequence and PCR analyses have now shown that AGD affecting 3 different salmonid species farmed in 4 countries are associated with N. pemaquidensis. A species-specific diagnostic PCR provides for the first time, a highly specific detection and identification assay for N. pemaquidensis that will facilitate future ecological and epidemiological studies of AGD.

KEY WORDS: Amoebic gill disease · Neoparamoeba pemaquidensis · Neoparamoeba aestuarina · 18S ribosomal DNA · PCR · Salmo salar · Salmonids

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