Development of a multiplex quantitative PCR assay for detection and quantification of DNA from Fasciola hepatica and the intermediate snail host, Austropeplea tomentosa, in water samples
Liver fluke (Fasciola hepatica) infection is an increasing threat to livestock production resulting in serious economic losses to the beef, dairy and sheep industries in Australia and globally. Triclabendazole (TCBZ) is the main drug used to control liver fluke infections in Australia and the widespread emergence of TCBZ resistance in cattle and sheep threatens liver fluke control. Alternative control measures to lower exposure of livestock to fluke infection would be useful to help preserve the usefulness of current chemical flukicides. Environmental DNA (eDNA) sampling methodology and associated molecular techniques are suited to rapidly assess the presence of pathogens on farms. In the present study, we developed a water sampling method in combination with a multiplex quantitative PCR assay to detect and quantify DNA of F. hepatica and Austropeplea tomentosa (A. tomentosa), a crucial intermediate snail host for liver fluke transmission in South-east Australia. The multiplex qPCR assay allows for the independent detection of F. hepatica and A. tomentosa DNA using specific primers and a probe targeting the ITS-2 region of the liver fluke or snail. The method allows the highly specific and sensitive (minimal DNA detection levels to 14-50 fg) detection of F. hepatica or A. tomentosa. The method allows the detection of both liver fluke and snail eDNA in water samples. The effective quantification of liver fluke and snail eDNA in water samples using this assay could potentially allow researchers to both identify and monitor F. hepatica transmission zones on farming properties in South-east Australia which will better inform control strategies, with potential application of the assay worldwide.