Abalone withering syndrome: distribution, impacts, current diagnostic methods and new findings.
Withering syndrome (WS) is a fatal disease of abalone caused by a Rickettsiales-like organism (WS-RLO). The causative agent, 'Candidatus Xenohaliotis californiensis', occurs along the eastern Pacific margin of North America in California, USA, and Baja California, Mexico. However, as infected abalones have been transported to Chile, China, Taiwan, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Spain, Thailand and Japan, the geographical range of the etiological agent is suspected to be broad, especially where California red abalones Haliotis rufescens are cultured or in areas where native species have been exposed to this species. Susceptibility varies among species, with up to 99% losses of black abalone H. cracherodii in laboratory and field studies in the USA to no losses among the small abalone H. diversicolor supertexta in Thailand. Some populations that have suffered catastrophic losses due to WS have developed resistance to the disease. In addition, a newly identified phage hyperparasite of the WS-RLO may reduce pathogenicity and dampen associated losses. Diagnosis of WS requires the identification of infection with the pathogen (WS-RLO detected via in situ hybridization or histology coupled with PCR and sequence analysis) accompanied by morphological changes that characterize this disease (e.g. pedal and digestive gland atrophy, and digestive gland metaplasia). A quantitative PCR assay was developed and may be useful in quantifying pathogen DNA. Confirmation of infection cannot be done by PCR analysis alone but can be used as a proxy for infection in areas where the agent is established and is recommended for inclusion in health examinations. Avoidance of WS is best accomplished by the establishment of a health history and multiple health examinations prior to movement of animals.