DAO 84:79-87 (2009)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/dao02027

Real-time PCR-based assay for quantitative detection of Hematodinium sp. in the blue crab Callinectes sapidus

L. Nagle1, A. R. Place2, E. J. Schott2, R. Jagus2, G. Messick3, J. S. Pitula1,*

1University of Maryland Eastern Shore, 1 Backbone Rd., 3107 Carver Hall, Princess Anne, Maryland 21853, USA
2UMBI-Center of Marine Biotechnology, 701 East Pratt St., Baltimore, Maryland 21202, USA
3Cooperative Oxford Laboratory, (CCEHBR) NOAA/NOS/NCCOS, 904 S. Morris St., Oxford, Maryland 21654, USA
*Corresponding author. Email:

ABSTRACT: Hematodinium sp. is a parasitic dinoflagellate infecting the blue crab Callinectes sapidus and other crustaceans. PCR-based assays are currently being used to identify infections in crabs that would have been undetectable by traditional microscopic examination. We therefore sought to define the limits of quantitative PCR (qPCR) detection within the context of field collection protocols. We present a qPCR assay based on the Hematodinium sp. 18S rRNA gene that can detect 10 copies of the gene per reaction. Analysis of a cell dilution series vs. defined numbers of a cloned Hematodinium sp. 18S rRNA gene suggests a copy number of 10000 per parasite and predicts a sensitivity of 0.001 cell equivalents. In practice, the assays are based on analysis of 1% of the DNA extracted from 200 µl of serum, yielding a theoretical detection limit of 5 cells ml–1 hemolymph, assuming that 1 cell is present per sample. When applied to a limited field survey of blue crabs collected in Maryland coastal bays from May to August 2005, 24 of 128 crabs (18.8%) were identified as positive for Hematodinium sp. infection using qPCR. In comparison, only 6 of 128 crabs (4.7%) were identified as positive using traditional hemolymph microscopic examination. The qPCR method also detected the parasite in gill, muscle, heart and hepatopancreas tissues, with 17.2% of the crabs showing infection in at least one of these tissues. Importantly, it is now possible to enumerate parasites within defined quantities of crab tissue, which permits collection of more detailed information on the epizootiology of the pathogen.


KEY WORDS: Callinectes sapidus · Hematodinium sp. · Quantitative real-time PCR


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Cite this article as: Nagle L, Place AR, Schott EJ, Jagus R, Messick G, Pitula JS (2009) Real-time PCR-based assay for quantitative detection of Hematodinium sp. in the blue crab Callinectes sapidus. Dis Aquat Org 84:79-87. https://doi.org/10.3354/dao02027

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