Background: Quantifying infection intensity is a common goal in parasitological studies. We have previously shown that the amount of parasite DNA in faecal samples can be a biologically meaningful measure of infection intensity, even if it does not agree well with complementary counts of transmission stages (oocysts in the case of Coccidia). Parasite DNA can be quantified at relatively high throughput using quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR), but amplification needs a high specificity and does not simultaneously distinguish between parasite species. Counting of amplified sequence variants (ASVs) from high-throughput marker gene sequencing using a relatively universal primer pair has the potential to distinguish between closely related co-infecting taxa and to uncover the community diversity, thus being both more specific and more open-ended.
Methods: We here compare qPCR to the sequencing-based amplification using standard PCR and a microfluidics-based PCR to quantify the unicellular parasite Eimeria in experimentally infected mice. We use multiple amplicons to differentially quantify Eimeria spp. in a natural house mouse population.
Results: We show that sequencing-based quantification has high accuracy. Using a combination of phylogenetic analysis and the co-occurrence network, we distinguish three Eimeria species in naturally infected mice based on multiple marker regions and genes. We investigate geographical and host-related effects on Eimeria spp. community composition and find, as expected, prevalence to be largely explained by sampling locality (farm). Controlling for this effect, the novel approach allowed us to find body condition of mice to be negatively associated with Eimeria spp. abundance.
Conclusions: We conclude that amplicon sequencing provides the underused potential for species distinction and simultaneous quantification of parasites in faecal material. The method allowed us to detect a negative effect of Eimeria infection on the body condition of mice in the natural environment.
Keywords: Amplicon sequencing; Body condition; Eimeria; Microbiome; Parasite infection; Parasite quantification; qPCR.
© 2023. The Author(s).