Characterization of the protozoan parasite Marteilia refringens infecting the dwarf oyster Ostrea stentina in Tunisia.
Marteilia refringens is a protozoan parasite recognized as a significant pathogen of the European flat oyster Ostrea edulis. The life cycle of this species is still poorly known, although there is evidence of the need for intermediate host(s). In the present study, we have used molecular approaches to identify this parasite in samples of the dwarf oyster Ostrea stentina after reports of massive mortality along the Tunisian coasts. In 2009 we evaluated the status of O. stentina from Monastir and checked if there was an infection with M. refringens, using polymerase chain reaction assays. Of the 103 tested O. stentina, 85 were PCR-positive using a Marteilia genus-specific assay. Additional assays were subsequently carried out on some samples collected in 2010 in Monastir and processed for histology, transmission electron microscopy and complementary molecular analyses. PCR was carried out to amplify the IGS and ITS regions. Histological and transmission electron microscopy analyses allowed us to confirm the presence of this parasite in the digestive gland tissue of O. stentina and to characterize it at the ultrastructural level. This is the first record of the occurrence of M. refringens in the oyster O. stentina along the Tunisian coasts.