Molecular characterization of Giardia intestinalis haplotypes in marine animals: variation and zoonotic potential. Academic Article uri icon


  • Giardia intestinalis is a microbial eukaryotic parasite that causes diarrheal disease in humans and other vertebrates worldwide. The negative effect on quality of life and economics caused by G. intestinalis may be increased by its potential status as a zoonosis, or a disease that can be transmitted from animals to humans. The zoonotic potential of G. intestinalis has been implied for over 2 decades, with human-infecting genotypes (belonging to the 2 major subgroups, Assemblages A and B) occurring in wildlife and domesticated animals. There are recent reports of G. intestinalis in shellfish, seals, sea lions and whales, suggesting that marine animals are also potential reservoirs of human disease. However, the prevalence, genetic diversity and effect of G. intestinalis in marine environments and the role that marine animals play in transmission of this parasite to humans are relatively unexplored. Here, we provide the first thorough molecular characterization of G. intestinalis in marine vertebrates. Using a multi-locus sequencing approach, we identify human-infecting G. intestinalis haplotypes of both Assemblages A and B in the fecal material of dolphins, porpoises, seals, herring gulls Larus argentatus, common eiders Somateria mollissima and a thresher shark Alopias vulpinus. Our results indicate that G. intestinalis is prevalent in marine ecosystems, and a wide range of marine hosts capable of harboring zoonotic forms of this parasite exist. The presence of G. intestinalis in marine ecosystems raises concerns about how this disease might be transmitted among different host species.

publication date

  • August 19, 2008