Leeches as a source of mammalian viral DNA and rna—a study in medicinal leeches
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Surveillance of wild vertebrates can be challenging in remote and inaccessible areas such as tropical rainforests. Blood-feeding parasites, such as leeches, can facilitate wild vertebrate monitoring by targeting residual DNA from the animals the leeches feed on. Successes in detecting host DNA from leeches suggest that host viruses may also be detectable. To systematically test this hypothesis, we performed a proof of concept study using quantitative PCR (qPCR) to detect DNA viruses (bovine herpesvirus [BHV], human adenovirus [HAdV]) and RNA viruses (influenza A [InfA] and measles morbillivirus [MeV]) from nucleic acids extracted from medicinal leeches fed with blood spiked with each virus. All viruses except BHV showed a gradual decline in concentration from day 1 to 50, and all except BHV were detectable in at least half of the samples even after 50 days. BHVexhibited a rapid decline at day 27 and was undetectable at day 50. Our findings inmedicinal leeches indicate that leeches collected in the wild might be an untapped resource for detecting vertebrate viruses and could provide new opportunities to study wildlife viral diseases of rare species in challenging environments, where capturing and handling of animals is difficult.
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