Characterisation and Noninvasive Molecular Diagnosis of Cardiovascular Flukes from Marine Turtles in Queensland, Australia
IAAAM 2014
Phoebe A. Chapman1*+; Rebecca J. Traub1; Thomas H. Cribb2; Mark Flint1; Myat Kyaw-Tanner1; David Blair3; Paul C. Mills1
1School of Veterinary Science, University of Queensland, Gatton, QLD, Australia; 2School of Biological Sciences, University of Queensland, St. Lucia, QLD, Australia; 3School of Marine and Tropical Biology, James Cook University, Townsville, QLD, Australia


Spirorchiid flukes inhabit the cardiovascular systems of endangered marine turtles and contribute to strandings and mortalities worldwide.1,2 Few studies have explored spirorchiid species assemblages, host-parasite relationships and species-specific pathogenicity. Spirorchiid eggs, rather than adults, are potentially the cause of the most significant pathology.1,2 Morphological identification of eggs beyond genus level is generally not possible due to inherent similarities, therefore it is difficult to attribute pathogenic effects of eggs to a particular species. This study aims to expand the currently very limited genetic database for spirorchiids to provide a means for identifying spirorchiid eggs to species level. This in turn will allow the proper investigation of relative pathogenicity of individual species, leading to the development of targeted diagnostics for surveillance and control purposes, as well as improving understanding of spirorchiid diversity and host-parasite relationships in Queensland. Stranded or recently deceased turtles were obtained from government or rehabilitation organisations and adult flukes and eggs collected during necropsies. Adult flukes were stained and mounted for morphological identification after initial examination and categorisation. Portions of adult worms were removed to provide genetic material prior to staining, or additional corresponding whole adults were used. The 28S (partial) and ITS2 nuclear ribosomal genes were amplified by PCR using custom primers and sequenced. These sequences were used to develop a separate protocol to identify species present in egg samples, as multiple genera and species are commonly present. A multiplex PCR using genus-specific primers was designed, with the use of restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) following PCR to differentiate between species. These genetic tools will allow investigation of the relative pathogenicity of individual spirorchiid species, and the development of a diagnostic test for the surveillance of these pathogenic spirorchiids in marine turtles in Queensland.


Funding for this project was provided by an ARC Linkage Grant. The authors also wish to thank the staff of Underwater World, Australia Zoo and the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service for their assistance in sourcing deceased turtles.

* Presenting author
+ Student presenter

Literature Cited

1.  Flint M, Patterson-Kane JC, Limpus CJ, Mills PC. Health surveillance of stranded green turtles in southern Queensland, Australia (2006–2009): an epidemiological analysis of causes of disease and mortality. EcoHealth. 2010;7:135–145.

2.  Stacy BA, Foley AM, Greiner E, Herbst LH, Bolten A, Klein P, Manire CA, Jacobson ER. Spirorchiidiasis in stranded loggerhead Caretta caretta and green turtles Chelonia mydas in Florida (USA): host pathology and significance. Dis Aquat Organ. 2010;89:237–259.


Speaker Information
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Phoebe A. Chapman
School of Veterinary Science
University of Queensland
Gatton, QLD, Australia

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