Elucidating the life cycle of Marteilia sydneyi, the aetiological agent of QX disease in the Sydney rock oyster (Saccostrea glomerata).
Marteilia sydneyi (Phylum Paramyxea, Class Marteiliidea, Order Marteiliida) (the causative agent of QX disease) is recognised as the most severe parasite to infect Saccostrea glomerata, the Sydney rock oyster, on the east coast of Australia. Despite its potential impact on industry (>95% mortality), research towards lessening these effects has been hindered by the lack of an experimental laboratory model of infection as a consequence of our incomplete understanding of the life cycle of this parasite. Here, we explored the presence of this parasite in hosts other than a bivalve mollusc from two study sites on the Hawkesbury River, New South Wales, Australia. We employed PCR-based in situ hybridisation and sequence analysis of a portion of the first internal transcribed spacer of rDNA in an attempt to detect M. sydneyi DNA in 21 species of polychaete worm. Marteilia DNA was detected in 6% of 1247 samples examined by PCR; the analysis of all amplicons defined one distinct sequence type for first internal transcribed spacer, representing M. sydneyi. Of the polychaete operational taxonomic units test-positive in PCR, we examined 116 samples via in situ hybridisation DNA probe staining and identified M. sydneyi DNA in the epithelium of the intestine of two specimens of Nephtys australiensis. Two differing morphological forms were identified: a 'primordial' cell that contained a well-defined nucleus but had little differentiation in the cytoplasm, and a 'plasmodial' cell that showed an apparent syncytial structure. This finding represents the first known record of the identification of M. sydneyi being parasitic in an organism other than an oyster, and only the third record of any species of Marteilia identified from non-molluscan hosts. Future work aims at determining if N. australiensis and S. glomerata are the only hosts in the life cycle of this paramyxean, and the development of experimental models to aid the production of QX disease-resistant oysters.