Investigation of Babesia sp. in pygoscelid penguins at the South Shetland Islands
Babesia spp. are tick-borne parasites, and 16 avian-infecting species have been described to date, including one species ( Babesia peircei ) that infects penguins. Considering the results of a recent study reporting Babesia sp. in penguins on Deception Island, South Shetland Islands, we re-examined the samples obtained in a previous investigation on the occurrence of blood parasites in adult Adélie ( Pygoscelis adeliae ), chinstrap ( Pygoscelis antarcticus ) and gentoo penguins ( Pygoscelis papua ) on King George and Elephant islands, South Shetland Islands. Notwithstanding a comprehensive re-examination of the blood smears, Babesia sp. was not detected. When we employed two nested PCR tests targeting the 18S rRNA gene of Babesia , a considerable proportion of the samples produced positive results; however, gene sequencing revealed these were due to cross-amplification of non-target organisms. We therefore did not detect Babesia sp. infection in penguins on King George and Elephant islands. Additional studies will be valuable to clarify the distribution and epidemiology of tick-borne pathogens in sub-Antarctic and Antarctic seabirds.
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