Meta-transcriptomic identification of Trypanosoma spp. in native wildlife species from Australia

Parasit Vectors. 2020 Sep 5;13(1):447. doi: 10.1186/s13071-020-04325-6.


Background: Wildlife species carry a remarkable diversity of trypanosomes. The detection of trypanosome infection in native Australian fauna is central to understanding their diversity and host-parasite associations. The implementation of total RNA sequencing (meta-transcriptomics) in trypanosome surveillance and diagnosis provides a powerful methodological approach to better understand the host species distribution of this important group of parasites.

Methods: We implemented a meta-transcriptomic approach to detect trypanosomes in a variety of tissues (brain, liver, lung, skin, gonads) sampled from native Australian wildlife, comprising four marsupials (koala, Phascolarctos cinereus; southern brown bandicoot, Isoodon obesulus; swamp wallaby, Wallabia bicolor; bare-nosed wombat, Vombatus ursinus), one bird (regent honeyeater, Anthochaera phrygia) and one amphibian (eastern dwarf tree frog, Litoria fallax). Samples corresponded to both clinically healthy and diseased individuals. Sequencing reads were de novo assembled into contigs and annotated. The evolutionary relationships among the trypanosomatid sequences identified were determined through phylogenetic analysis of 18S rRNA sequences.

Results: We detected trypanosome sequences in all six species of vertebrates sampled, with positive samples in multiple organs and tissues confirmed by PCR. Phylogenetic analysis indicated that the trypanosomes infecting marsupials were related to those previously detected in placental and marsupial mammals, while the trypanosome in the regent honeyeater grouped with avian trypanosomes. In contrast, we provide the first evidence for a trypanosome in the eastern dwarf tree frog that was phylogenetically distinct from those described in other amphibians.

Conclusions: To our knowledge, this is the first meta-transcriptomic analysis of trypanosomes in native Australian wildlife, expanding the known genetic diversity of these important parasites. We demonstrated that RNA sequencing is sufficiently sensitive to detect low numbers of Trypanosoma transcripts and from diverse hosts and tissues types, thereby representing an effective means to detect trypanosomes that are divergent in genome sequence.

Keywords: Australia; Genetic diversity; Meta-transcriptomics; Native fauna; Trypanosoma; sequencing.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Wild / parasitology*
  • Australia
  • Biodiversity
  • Biological Evolution
  • DNA, Protozoan / genetics
  • Host-Parasite Interactions
  • Marsupialia / parasitology
  • Metagenomics
  • Passeriformes / parasitology
  • Phylogeny
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 18S / genetics
  • Ranidae / parasitology
  • Transcriptome
  • Trypanosoma* / classification
  • Trypanosoma* / genetics
  • Trypanosoma* / isolation & purification
  • Vertebrates / parasitology


  • DNA, Protozoan
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 18S