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1.  Hydrologic and Vegetative Removal of Cryptosporidium parvum, Giardia lamblia, and Toxoplasma gondii Surrogate Microspheres in Coastal Wetlands 
Constructed wetland systems are used to reduce pollutants and pathogens in wastewater effluent, but comparatively little is known about pathogen transport through natural wetland habitats. Fecal protozoans, including Cryptosporidium parvum, Giardia lamblia, and Toxoplasma gondii, are waterborne pathogens of humans and animals, which are carried by surface waters from land-based sources into coastal waters. This study evaluated key factors of coastal wetlands for the reduction of protozoal parasites in surface waters using settling column and recirculating mesocosm tank experiments. Settling column experiments evaluated the effects of salinity, temperature, and water type (“pure” versus “environmental”) on the vertical settling velocities of C. parvum, G. lamblia, and T. gondii surrogates, with salinity and water type found to significantly affect settling of the parasites. The mesocosm tank experiments evaluated the effects of salinity, flow rate, and vegetation parameters on parasite and surrogate counts, with increased salinity and the presence of vegetation found to be significant factors for removal of parasites in a unidirectional transport wetland system. Overall, this study highlights the importance of water type, salinity, and vegetation parameters for pathogen transport within wetland systems, with implications for wetland management, restoration efforts, and coastal water quality.
doi:10.1128/AEM.03251-12
PMCID: PMC3592235  PMID: 23315738
2.  Prevalence, Environmental Loading, and Molecular Characterization of Cryptosporidium and Giardia Isolates from Domestic and Wild Animals along the Central California Coast 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2012;78(24):8762-8772.
The risk of disease transmission from waterborne protozoa is often dependent on the origin (e.g., domestic animals versus wildlife), overall parasite load in contaminated waterways, and parasite genotype, with infections being linked to runoff or direct deposition of domestic animal and wildlife feces. Fecal samples collected from domestic animals and wildlife along the central California coast were screened to (i) compare the prevalence and associated risk factors for fecal shedding of Cryptosporidium and Giardia species parasites, (ii) evaluate the relative importance of animal host groups that contribute to pathogen loading in coastal ecosystems, and (iii) characterize zoonotic and host-specific genotypes. Overall, 6% of fecal samples tested during 2007 to 2010 were positive for Cryptosporidium oocysts and 15% were positive for Giardia cysts. Animal host group and age class were significantly associated with detection of Cryptosporidium and Giardia parasites in animal feces. Fecal loading analysis revealed that infected beef cattle potentially contribute the greatest parasite load relative to other host groups, followed by wild canids. Beef cattle, however, shed host-specific, minimally zoonotic Cryptosporidium and Giardia duodenalis genotypes, whereas wild canids shed potentially zoonotic genotypes, including G. duodenalis assemblages A and B. Given that the parasite genotypes detected in cattle were not zoonotic, the public health risk posed by protozoan parasite shedding in cattle feces may be lower than that posed by other animals, such as wild canids, that routinely shed zoonotic genotypes.
doi:10.1128/AEM.02422-12
PMCID: PMC3502930  PMID: 23042185
3.  Genotypic Characterization of Streptococcus infantarius subsp. coli Isolates from Sea Otters with Infective Endocarditis and/or Septicemia and from Environmental Mussel Samples 
Journal of Clinical Microbiology  2012;50(12):4131-4133.
Pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) was used to type 128 Streptococcus infantarius subsp. coli isolates from sea otters and mussels. Six SmaI PFGE groups were detected, with one predominant group representing 57% of the isolates collected over a wide geographic region. Several sea otter and mussel isolates were highly related, suggesting that an environmental infection source is possible.
doi:10.1128/JCM.02581-12
PMCID: PMC3503019  PMID: 23052307
4.  Longitudinal Poisson Regression To Evaluate the Epidemiology of Cryptosporidium, Giardia, and Fecal Indicator Bacteria in Coastal California Wetlands 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2012;78(10):3606-3613.
Fecal pathogen contamination of watersheds worldwide is increasingly recognized, and natural wetlands may have an important role in mitigating fecal pathogen pollution flowing downstream. Given that waterborne protozoa, such as Cryptosporidium and Giardia, are transported within surface waters, this study evaluated associations between fecal protozoa and various wetland-specific and environmental risk factors. This study focused on three distinct coastal California wetlands: (i) a tidally influenced slough bordered by urban and agricultural areas, (ii) a seasonal wetland adjacent to a dairy, and (iii) a constructed wetland that receives agricultural runoff. Wetland type, seasonality, rainfall, and various water quality parameters were evaluated using longitudinal Poisson regression to model effects on concentrations of protozoa and indicator bacteria (Escherichia coli and total coliform). Among wetland types, the dairy wetland exhibited the highest protozoal and bacterial concentrations, and despite significant reductions in microbe concentrations, the wetland could still be seen to influence water quality in the downstream tidal wetland. Additionally, recent rainfall events were associated with higher protozoal and bacterial counts in wetland water samples across all wetland types. Notably, detection of E. coli concentrations greater than a 400 most probable number (MPN) per 100 ml was associated with higher Cryptosporidium oocyst and Giardia cyst concentrations. These findings show that natural wetlands draining agricultural and livestock operation runoff into human-utilized waterways should be considered potential sources of pathogens and that wetlands can be instrumental in reducing pathogen loads to downstream waters.
doi:10.1128/AEM.00578-12
PMCID: PMC3346375  PMID: 22427504
5.  Self-Mating in the Definitive Host Potentiates Clonal Outbreaks of the Apicomplexan Parasites Sarcocystis neurona and Toxoplasma gondii 
PLoS Genetics  2010;6(12):e1001261.
Tissue-encysting coccidia, including Toxoplasma gondii and Sarcocystis neurona, are heterogamous parasites with sexual and asexual life stages in definitive and intermediate hosts, respectively. During its sexual life stage, T. gondii reproduces either by genetic out-crossing or via clonal amplification of a single strain through self-mating. Out-crossing has been experimentally verified as a potent mechanism capable of producing offspring possessing a range of adaptive and virulence potentials. In contrast, selfing and other life history traits, such as asexual expansion of tissue-cysts by oral transmission among intermediate hosts, have been proposed to explain the genetic basis for the clonal population structure of T. gondii. In this study, we investigated the contributing roles self-mating and sexual recombination play in nature to maintain clonal population structures and produce or expand parasite clones capable of causing disease epidemics for two tissue encysting parasites. We applied high-resolution genotyping against strains isolated from a T. gondii waterborne outbreak that caused symptomatic disease in 155 immune-competent people in Brazil and a S. neurona outbreak that resulted in a mass mortality event in Southern sea otters. In both cases, a single, genetically distinct clone was found infecting outbreak-exposed individuals. Furthermore, the T. gondii outbreak clone was one of several apparently recombinant progeny recovered from the local environment. Since oocysts or sporocysts were the infectious form implicated in each outbreak, the expansion of the epidemic clone can be explained by self-mating. The results also show that out-crossing preceded selfing to produce the virulent T. gondii clone. For the tissue encysting coccidia, self-mating exists as a key adaptation potentiating the epidemic expansion and transmission of newly emerged parasite clones that can profoundly shape parasite population genetic structures or cause devastating disease outbreaks.
Author Summary
The parasites Toxoplasma gondii and Sarcocystis neurona have lifecycles that include a sexual stage in a definitive host and an asexual stage in intermediate hosts. For T. gondii, laboratory studies have demonstrated that the sexual stage can serve the dual purpose of producing new, virulent genotypes through recombination and promoting expansion of single clones via self-mating. Self-mating and other life history traits of T. gondii, including transmission of asexual stages among intermediate hosts, are assumed to account for the clonal population genetic structure of this organism. However, the relative contributions of sexual recombination and self-mating verses other life history traits in causing disease outbreaks or in shaping Toxoplasma's population genetic structure have not been verified in nature, nor have these traits been extensively examined in related parasites. To address this knowledge gap, we conducted population genetic analyses on T. gondii and S. neurona strains isolated from naturally occurring outbreaks affecting humans and sea otters, respectively. Our results identify self-mating as a key trait potentiating disease outbreaks through the rapid amplification of a single clone into millions of infectious units. Selfing is likely a key adaptation for enhancing transmission of recently emerged, recombinant clones and reshaping population genetic structures among the tissue-cyst coccidia.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1001261
PMCID: PMC3009688  PMID: 21203443
6.  Evidence for a Novel Marine Harmful Algal Bloom: Cyanotoxin (Microcystin) Transfer from Land to Sea Otters 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(9):e12576.
“Super-blooms” of cyanobacteria that produce potent and environmentally persistent biotoxins (microcystins) are an emerging global health issue in freshwater habitats. Monitoring of the marine environment for secondary impacts has been minimal, although microcystin-contaminated freshwater is known to be entering marine ecosystems. Here we confirm deaths of marine mammals from microcystin intoxication and provide evidence implicating land-sea flow with trophic transfer through marine invertebrates as the most likely route of exposure. This hypothesis was evaluated through environmental detection of potential freshwater and marine microcystin sources, sea otter necropsy with biochemical analysis of tissues and evaluation of bioaccumulation of freshwater microcystins by marine invertebrates. Ocean discharge of freshwater microcystins was confirmed for three nutrient-impaired rivers flowing into the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, and microcystin concentrations up to 2,900 ppm (2.9 million ppb) were detected in a freshwater lake and downstream tributaries to within 1 km of the ocean. Deaths of 21 southern sea otters, a federally listed threatened species, were linked to microcystin intoxication. Finally, farmed and free-living marine clams, mussels and oysters of species that are often consumed by sea otters and humans exhibited significant biomagnification (to 107 times ambient water levels) and slow depuration of freshwater cyanotoxins, suggesting a potentially serious environmental and public health threat that extends from the lowest trophic levels of nutrient-impaired freshwater habitat to apex marine predators. Microcystin-poisoned sea otters were commonly recovered near river mouths and harbors and contaminated marine bivalves were implicated as the most likely source of this potent hepatotoxin for wild otters. This is the first report of deaths of marine mammals due to cyanotoxins and confirms the existence of a novel class of marine “harmful algal bloom” in the Pacific coastal environment; that of hepatotoxic shellfish poisoning (HSP), suggesting that animals and humans are at risk from microcystin poisoning when consuming shellfish harvested at the land-sea interface.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0012576
PMCID: PMC2936937  PMID: 20844747
7.  Enteric bacterial pathogen detection in southern sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis) is associated with coastal urbanization and freshwater runoff 
Veterinary Research  2009;41(1):01.
Although protected for nearly a century, California’s sea otters have been slow to recover, in part due to exposure to fecally-associated protozoal pathogens like Toxoplasma gondii and Sarcocystis neurona. However, potential impacts from exposure to fecal bacteria have not been systematically explored. Using selective media, we examined feces from live and dead sea otters from California for specific enteric bacterial pathogens (Campylobacter, Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, C. difficile and Escherichia coli O157:H7), and pathogens endemic to the marine environment (Vibrio cholerae, V. parahaemolyticus and Plesiomonas shigelloides). We evaluated statistical associations between detection of these pathogens in otter feces and demographic or environmental risk factors for otter exposure, and found that dead otters were more likely to test positive for C. perfringens, Campylobacter and V. parahaemolyticus than were live otters. Otters from more urbanized coastlines and areas with high freshwater runoff (near outflows of rivers or streams) were more likely to test positive for one or more of these bacterial pathogens. Other risk factors for bacterial detection in otters included male gender and fecal samples collected during the rainy season when surface runoff is maximal. Similar risk factors were reported in prior studies of pathogen exposure for California otters and their invertebrate prey, suggesting that land-sea transfer and/or facilitation of pathogen survival in degraded coastal marine habitat may be impacting sea otter recovery. Because otters and humans share many of the same foods, our findings may also have implications for human health.
doi:10.1051/vetres/2009049
PMCID: PMC2769548  PMID: 19720009
Campylobacter; Clostridium; sea otter; Salmonella; Vibrio
8.  Mass Stranding of Marine Birds Caused by a Surfactant-Producing Red Tide 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(2):e4550.
In November-December 2007 a widespread seabird mortality event occurred in Monterey Bay, California, USA, coincident with a massive red tide caused by the dinoflagellate Akashiwo sanguinea. Affected birds had a slimy yellow-green material on their feathers, which were saturated with water, and they were severely hypothermic. We determined that foam containing surfactant-like proteins, derived from organic matter of the red tide, coated their feathers and neutralized natural water repellency and insulation. No evidence of exposure to petroleum or other oils or biotoxins were found. This is the first documented case of its kind, but previous similar events may have gone undetected. The frequency and amplitude of red tides have increased in Monterey Bay since 2004, suggesting that impacts on wintering marine birds may continue or increase.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0004550
PMCID: PMC2641015  PMID: 19234604

Results 1-8 (8)