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J Microbiol Methods. 2003 Feb;52(2):251-60.

Application of broad-range 16S rRNA PCR amplification and DGGE fingerprinting for detection of tick-infecting bacteria.

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Institute of Microbiology and Genetics, University of Vienna, Dr Bohr-Gasse 9, 1030 Vienna, Austria.


Ticks play an important role in the transmission of arthropod-borne diseases of viral, protozoal and bacterial origin. The present article describes a molecular-biological based method, which facilitated the broad-range analyses of bacterial communities in ixodid ticks (Ixodes ricinus). DNA was extracted both from single ticks and pooled adult ticks. Eubacterial 16S rRNA gene fragments (16S rDNA) were amplified by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) with broad-range ribosomal primers. Sequences spanning the hypervariable V3 region of the 16S rDNA and representing individual bacterial taxons were separated by denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE). For phylogenetic identification, DGGE bands were exised, cloned and sequenced. In addition, we set up a 16S rDNA clone library which was screened by DGGE. Sequences were compared with sequences of known bacteria listed in the GenBank database. A number of bacteria were affiliated with the genera Rickettsia, Bartonella, and Borrelia, which are known to be pathogenic and transmitted by ticks. Two sequences were related to the yet to be cultivated Haemobartonella. To our knowledge, Haemobartonella has never been directly detected in I. ricinus. In addition, members of the genera Staphylococcus, Rhodococcus, Pseudomonas, and Moraxella were detected, which have not been identified in ticks so far. Two bacteria were most closely related to a rickettsial endosymbiont of an Acanthamoeba sp., and to an endosymbiont (Legionellaceae, Coxiella group) of the microarthropod Folsomia candida. The results prove that 16S rDNA genotyping in combination with DGGE analysis is a promising approach for the detection and identification of bacteria infecting ticks, regardless of whether these bacteria are fastidious, obligate intracellular or noncultivable.

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