Environmental DNA for improved detection and environmental surveillance of schistosomiasis

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  • Mita E. Sengupta, Københavns Universitet
  • ,
  • Micaela Hellström, Københavns Universitet, AquaBiota Water Research
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  • Henry C. Kariuki, Kenya Methodist University
  • ,
  • Annette Olsen, Københavns Universitet
  • ,
  • Philip F. Thomsen
  • Helena Mejer, Københavns Universitet
  • ,
  • Eske Willerslev, Københavns Universitet, Cambridge University, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Cambridge, Syddansk Universitet
  • ,
  • Mariam T. Mwanje, Ministry of Health Nairobi
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  • Henry Madsen, Københavns Universitet
  • ,
  • Thomas K. Kristensen, Department of Basic Animal and Veterinary Sciences, Copenhagen University, Københavns Universitet
  • ,
  • Anna Sofie Stensgaard, Københavns Universitet
  • ,
  • Birgitte J. Vennervald, Department of Basic Animal and Veterinary Sciences, Copenhagen University, Københavns Universitet

Schistosomiasis is a water-based, infectious disease with high morbidity and significant economic burdens affecting >250 million people globally. Disease control has, with notable success, for decades focused on drug treatment of infected human populations, but a recent paradigm shift now entails moving from control to elimination. To achieve this ambitious goal, more sensitive diagnostic tools are needed to monitor progress toward transmission interruption in the environment, especially in low-intensity infection areas. We report on the development of an environmental DNA (eDNA)-based tool to efficiently detect DNA traces of the parasite Schistosoma mansoni directly in the aquatic environment, where the nonhuman part of the parasite life cycle occurs. This is a report of the successful detection of S. mansoni in freshwater samples by using aquatic eDNA. True eDNA was detected in as few as 10 cercariae per liter of water in laboratory experiments. The field applicability of the method was tested at known transmission sites in Kenya, where comparison of schistosome detection by conventional snail surveys (snail collection and cercariae shedding) with eDNA (water samples) showed 71% agreement between the methods. The eDNA method furthermore detected schistosome presence at two additional sites where snail shedding failed, demonstrating a higher sensitivity of eDNA sampling. We conclude that eDNA provides a promising tool to substantially improve the environmental surveillance of S. mansoni. Given the proper method and guideline development, eDNA could become an essential future component of the schistosomiasis control tool box needed to achieve the goal of elimination.

Original languageEnglish
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Pages (from-to)8931-8940
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 2019

    Research areas

  • Elimination, Environmental DNA, Schistosoma mansoni, Schistosomiasis, Snails

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