Environmental DNA metabarcoding to detect pathogenic Leptospira and associated organisms in leptospirosis-endemic areas of Japan

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Abstract

Leptospires, which cause the zoonotic disease leptospirosis, persist in soil and aqueous environments. Several factors, including rainfall, the presence of reservoir animals, and various abiotic and biotic components interact to influence leptospiral survival, persistence, and pathogenicity in the environment. However, how these factors modulate the risk of infection is poorly understood. Here we developed an approach using environmental DNA (eDNA) metabarcoding for detecting the microbiome, vertebrates, and pathogenic Leptospira in aquatic samples. Specifically, we combined 4 sets of primers to generate PCR products for high-throughput sequencing of multiple amplicons through next-generation sequencing. Using our method to analyze the eDNA of leptospirosis-endemic areas in northern Okinawa, Japan, we found that the microbiota in each river shifted over time. Operating taxonomic units corresponding to pathogenic L. alstonii, L. kmetyi, and L. interrogans were detected in association with 12 nonpathogenic bacterial species. In addition, the frequencies of 11 of these species correlated with the amount of rainfall. Furthermore, 10 vertebrate species, including Sus scrofa, Pteropus dasymallus, and Cynops ensicauda, showed high correlation with leptospiral eDNA detection. Our eDNA metabarcoding method is a powerful tool for understanding the environmental phase of Leptospira and predicting human infection risk.

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