Identification and quantification of Acanthamoeba spp. within seawater at four coastal lagoons on the east coast of Australia

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Acanthamoeba is an opportunistic free-living heterotrophic protist that is the most predominant amoeba in diverse ecological habitats. Acanthamoeba causes amoebic keratitis (AK), a painful and potentially blinding corneal infection. Major risk factors for AK have been linked to non-optimal contact lens hygiene practices and Acanthamoeba contamination of domestic and recreational water. This study investigated the incidence and seasonal variation of Acanthamoeba spp. within coastal lagoons located on the eastern coast of Australia and then examined the association between Acanthamoeba and water abiotic factors and bacterial species within the water. Water samples were collected from four intermittently closed and open lagoons (ICOLLs) (Wamberal, Terrigal, Avoca and Cockrone) every month between August 2019 to July 2020 except March and April. qPCR was used to target the Acanthamoeba 18S rRNA gene, validated by Sanger sequencing. Water abiotic factors were measured in situ using a multiprobe metre and 16S rRNA sequencing (V3-V4) was performed to characterise bacterial community composition. Network analysis was used to gauge putative associations between Acanthamoeba incidence and bacterial amplicon sequence variants (ASVs). Among 206 water samples analysed, 79 (38.3%) were Acanthamoeba positive and Acanthamoeba level was significantly higher in summer compared with winter, spring, or autumn (p = 0.008). More than 50% (23/45) water samples of Terrigal were positive for Acanthamoeba which is a highly urbanised area with extensive recreational activities while about 32% (16/49) samples were positive from Cockrone that is the least impacted lagoon by urban development. All sequenced strains belonged to the pathogenic genotype T4 clade except two which were of genotype clades T2 and T5. Water turbidity, temperature, intl1 gene concentration, and dissolved O2 were significantly associated with Acanthamoeba incidence (p < 0.05). The ASVs level of cyanobacteria, Pseudomonas spp., Candidatus spp., and marine bacteria of the Actinobacteria phylum and Acanthamoeba 18S rRNA genes were positively correlated (Pearson's r ≥ 0.14). The presence of Acanthamoeba spp. in all lagoons, except Wamberal, was associated with significant differences in the composition of bacterial communities (beta diversity). The results of this study suggest that coastal lagoons, particularly those in urbanised regions with extensive water recreational activities, may pose an elevated risk to human health due to the relatively high incidence of pathogenic Acanthamoeba in the summer. These findings underscore the importance of educating the public about the rare yet devastating impact of AK on vision and quality of life, highlighting the need for collaborative efforts between public health officials and educators to promote awareness and preventive measures, especially focusing lagoons residents and travellers.




Rayamajhee, B., Williams, N. L. R., Siboni, N., Rodgers, K., Willcox, M., Henriquez, F. L., … Carnt, N. (2023). Identification and quantification of Acanthamoeba spp. within seawater at four coastal lagoons on the east coast of Australia. Science of the Total Environment, 901.

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