J Parasitol. 2023 Jul 1;109(4):340-348. doi: 10.1645/22-97.


Leptotrombidium (Acari: Trombiculidae) mites are carriers of Orientia tsutsugamushi, the bacterial pathogen causing scrub typhus in humans. Classification of Leptotrombidium is vital because limited mite species carry O. tsutsugamushi. Generally, Leptotrombidium at the larval stage (approximately 0.2 mm in size) are used for morphological identification. However, morphological identification is often challenging because it requires considerable skills and taxonomic expertise. In this study, we found that the full-length sequences of the mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase subunit 1 gene varied among the significant Leptotrombidium. On the basis of these, we modified the canonical deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) barcoding method for animals by redesigning the primer set to be suitable for Leptotrombidium. Polymerase chain reaction with the redesigned primer set drastically increased the detection sensitivity, especially against Leptotrombidium scutellare (approximately 17% increase), one of the significant mites carrying O. tsutsugamushi. Phylogenetic analysis showed that the samples morphologically classified as L. scutellare and Leptotrombidium pallidum were further split into 3 and 2 distinct subclusters respectively. The mean genetic distance (p-distance) between L. scutellare and L. pallidum was 0.2147, whereas the mean distances within each species were 0.052 and 0.044, respectively. Within L. scutellare, the mean genetic distances between the 3 subclusters were 0.1626-0.1732, whereas the distances within each subcluster were 0.003-0.017. Within L. pallidum, the mean genetic distance between the 2 subclusters was 0.1029, whereas the distances within each subcluster were 0.010-0.013. The DNA barcoding uncovered a broad genetic diversity of Leptotrombidium, especially of L. scutellare and L. pallidum, the notable species carrying O. tsutsugamushi. We conclude that the DNA barcoding using our primers enables precise and detailed classification of Leptotrombidium and implies the existence of a subgenotype in Leptotrombidium that had not been found by morphological identification.

Keywords: DNA barcoding; Mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase subunit I (COI); Morphological classification; Subgenotype.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acari*
  • Animals
  • Bacteria
  • Genetic Variation
  • Humans
  • Orientia tsutsugamushi* / genetics
  • Phylogeny
  • Scrub Typhus* / microbiology
  • Trombiculidae*