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Morphological polymorphism of Trypanosoma copemani and description of the genetically diverse T. vegrandis sp. nov. from the critically endangered Australian potoroid, the brush-tailed bettong (Bettongia penicillata (Gray, 1837))

Thompson, C.K., Botero Gomez, A., Wayne, A.F., Godfrey, S.S., Lymbery, A.J. and Thompson, R.C.A. (2013) Morphological polymorphism of Trypanosoma copemani and description of the genetically diverse T. vegrandis sp. nov. from the critically endangered Australian potoroid, the brush-tailed bettong (Bettongia penicillata (Gray, 1837)). Parasites & Vectors, 6 (1).

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Abstract

Background: The trypanosome diversity of the Brush-tailed Bettong (Bettongia penicillata), known locally as the woylie, has been further investigated. At a species level, woylies are critically endangered and have declined by 90% since 1999. The predation of individuals made more vulnerable by disease is thought to be the primary cause of this decline, but remains to be proven.

Methods: Woylies were sampled from three locations in southern Western Australia. Blood samples were collected and analysed using fluorescence in situ hybridization, conventional staining techniques and microscopy. Molecular techniques were also used to confirm morphological observations.

Results: The trypanosomes in the blood of woylies were grouped into three morphologically distinct trypomastigote forms, encompassing two separate species. The larger of the two species, Trypanosoma copemani exhibited polymorphic trypomastigote forms, with morphological phenotypes being distinguishable, primarily by the distance between the kinetoplast and nucleus. The second trypanosome species was only 20% of the length of T. copemani and is believed to be one of the smallest recorded trypanosome species from mammals. No morphological polymorphism was identified for this genetically diverse second species. We described the trypomastigote morphology of this new, smaller species from the peripheral blood of the woylie and proposed the name T. vegrandis sp. nov. Temporal results indicate that during T. copemani Phenotype 1 infections, the blood forms remain numerous and are continuously detectable by molecular methodology. In contrast, the trypomastigote forms of T. copemani Phenotype 2 appear to decrease in prevalence in the blood to below molecular detectable levels.

Conclusions: Here we report for the first time on the morphological diversity of trypanosomes infecting the woylie and provide the first visual evidence of a mixed infection of both T. vegrandis sp. nov and T. copemani. We also provide supporting evidence that over time, the intracellular T. copemani Phenotype 2 may become localised in the tissues of woylies as the infection progresses from the active acute to chronic phase. As evidence grows, further research will be necessary to investigate whether the morphologically diverse trypanosomes of woylies have impacted on the health of their hosts during recent population declines.

Publication Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Veterinary and Life Sciences
Publisher: BioMed Central
Copyright: © 2013 Thompson et al.
Notes: This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
URI: http://researchrepository.murdoch.edu.au/id/eprint/15748
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