Background: Although a number of new species of Babesia/Theileria have been described recently, there are still relatively few reports of species from Africa. In this study based on the evaluation of morphology and phylogenetic relationships, we describe a novel species from Wagner's gerbil, Babesia behnkei n. sp.
Methods: Rodents (n = 1021) were sampled in four montane valleys (wadies) in 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012 in the Sinai Mountains, Egypt. The overall prevalence of Babesia spp. was highest in the Wagner's gerbil (Dipodillus dasyurus; 38.7%) in comparison to the prevalence in the spiny mice species, Acomys dimidiatus and A. russatus. Morphological investigations were conducted for the comparison of trophozoites of the novel species of Babesia with the B. microti King's 67 reference strain. Thirty-two isolates derived from D. dasyurus over a 9 year period (2004-2012) from two wadies (29 isolates from Wadi Gebel and 3 from Wadi El-Arbaein) were investigated by microscopic, molecular and phylogenetic analysis. A near-full-length sequence of the 18S rRNA gene and the second internal transcribed spacer (ITS2) region were amplified, sequenced and used for the construction of phylogenetic trees.
Results: A novel species of Babesia was identified in two isolated populations of D. dasyurus. Phylogenetic analysis of 18S rDNA and ITS2 sequences revealed that B. behnkei n. sp. is most closely related to B. lengau from cheetahs from South Africa and to Nearctic species found only in North America (the pathogenic B. duncani and B. conradae) and that it is more distant to the cosmopolitan rodent parasite B. microti. Trophozoites of B. behnkei were smaller and less polymorphic than trophozoites of B. microti.
Conclusion: Babesia behnkei n. sp. is a novel species of the 'Duncani group' maintained in isolated populations of Dipodillus dasyurus occurring in the Sinai Mountains of Egypt.