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First molecular characterization of enteric protozoa and the human pathogenic microsporidian, Enterocytozoon bieneusi, in captive snakes in China

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Enteric protozoa are frequently found in snakes. Nevertheless, few studies regarding genetic characterization of these parasites have been carried out. We describe here the first molecular survey of protozoan pathogens from snakes in China and the first report on Enterocytozoon bieneusi genotyping in snakes in the world. Here, 240 fecal specimens were collected from two species of captive snakes, Naja naja (Indian cobra) and Ptyas mucosus (Oriental rat snake), in Guangxi Province, China, and examined by PCR amplification of the small subunit-ribosomal RNA of enteric protozoa and the internal transcribed spacer of ribosomal RNA of E. bieneusi. Cryptosporidium serpentis was identified in three specimens (2.1 %) of Oriental rat snakes. Caryospora was found in 5.4 % specimens, including eight from cobras (8.1 %) and five from rat snakes (3.6 %), and represented six new species—Caryospora sp. SKC-2014a to Caryospora sp. SKC-2014 f. Three new Eimeria species, Eimeria sp. SKE-2014a to Eimeria sp. SKE-2014c, were detected in three specimens (2.1 %) from rat snakes. Additionally, Sarcocystis sp. SKS-2014 was detected in one specimen from a cobra. The infection rates of E. bieneusi were 3.0 % in cobras and 5.7 % in rat snakes. Sequence analysis of 11 PCR products revealed the presence of six E. bieneusi genotypes—two known genotypes (type IV and Henan V) and four new genotypes (CRep-1 to CRep-4). All six E. bieneusi genotypes belonged to the zoonotic group (group 1). This result raised the possibility that E. bieneusi could be present in animals consumed by snakes. This should be taken into consideration to better understand the diversity of the parasite, its transmission through the predator–prey relationship, and public health implications.

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This study was supported in part by the State Key Program of National Natural Science Foundation of China (31330079), Innovation Scientists and Technicians Troop Construction Projects of Henan Province (134200510012), the Key National Science and Technology Specific Projects (no. 2012ZX10004220-001), and the Program for Science and Technology Innovative Research Team in University of Henan Province (012IRTSTHN005).

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Correspondence to Longxian Zhang.

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Karim, M.R., Yu, F., Li, J. et al. First molecular characterization of enteric protozoa and the human pathogenic microsporidian, Enterocytozoon bieneusi, in captive snakes in China. Parasitol Res 113, 3041–3048 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00436-014-3967-9

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  • Enteric protozoa
  • Enterocytozoon bieneusi
  • Molecular characterization
  • Snakes
  • China