Host DNA integrity within blood meals of hematophagous larval gnathiid isopods (Crustacea, Isopoda, Gnathiidae)
Parasites & Vectors
Juvenile gnathiid isopods are common ectoparasites of marine fishes. Each of the three juvenile stages briefly attach to a host to obtain a blood meal but spend most of their time living in the substrate, thus making it difficult to determine patterns of host exploitation. Sequencing of host blood meals from wild-caught specimens is a promising tool to determine host identity. Although established protocols for this approach exist, certain challenges must be overcome when samples are subjected
... o typical field conditions that may contribute to DNA degradation. The goal of this study was to address a key methodological issue associated with molecular-based host identification from free-living, blood-engorged gnathiid isopods-the degradation of host DNA within blood meals. Here we have assessed the length of time host DNA within gnathiid blood meals can remain viable for positive host identification. Methods: Juvenile gnathiids were allowed to feed on fish of known species and subsets were preserved at 4-h intervals over 24 h and then every 24 h up to 5 days post-feeding. Host DNA extracted from gnathiid blood meals was sequenced to validate the integrity of host DNA at each time interval. DNA was also extracted from blood meals of wild-fed gnathiids for comparison. Attempts were also made to extract host DNA from metamorphosed juveniles. Results: Using a cox1 universal fish primer set, known fish host DNA sequences were successfully identified for nearly 100% of third-stage juvenile gnathiid blood meals, digested for up to 5 days post-feeding. For second-stage juveniles, host identification was 100% successful when gnathiids were preserved within 24 h of collection. Fish hosts were positively identified for 69% of sequences from wild-fed gnathiid isopods. Of the 31% of sequences not receiving a ≥ 98 % match to a sequence in GenBank, 25 sequences were of possible invertebrate origin. Conclusions: To our knowledge, this is the first study to examine the degradation rate of gnathiid isopod blood meals. Determining the rate at which gnathiids digest their blood meal is an important step in ensuring the successful host identification by DNA-based methods in large field studies.