Serogrouping using direct PCR

A direct serogrouping procedure was developed involving extraction of DNA directly from foot swabs, followed by serogroup-specific PCR. The direct procedure was more sensitive than culture-based serogrouping methods, and provided a rapid screening tool. In flocks where only one or two serogroups are detected by direct PCR, serogroup-specific vaccines could be adminstered without the need for additional virulence testing, which is both laborious and expensive.

McPherson, A. S., Dhungyel, O. P., Whittington, R. J. 2018, ‘Detection and serogrouping of Dichelobacter nodosus infection by use of direct PCR from lesion swabs to support outbreak-specific vaccination for virulent footrot in sheep’, Journal of Clinical Microbiology 56(4)


Virulent footrot is an economically significant disease in most sheep-rearing countries. The disease can be controlled with vaccine targeting the fimbriae of virulent strains of the essential causative agent, Dichelobacter nodosus. However, the bacterium is immunologically heterogeneous, and 10 distinct fimbrial serogroups have been identified. Ideally, in each outbreak the infecting strains would be cultured and serogrouped so that the appropriate serogroup-specific mono- or bivalent vaccine could be administered, because multivalent vaccines lack efficacy due to antigenic competition. If clinical disease expression is suspected to be incomplete, culture-based virulence tests are required to confirm the diagnosis, because control of benign footrot is economically unjustifiable. Both diagnosis and vaccination are conducted at the flock level. The aims of this study were to develop a PCR-based procedure for detecting and serogrouping D. nodosus directly from foot swabs and to determine whether this could be done accurately from the same cultured swab. A total of 269 swabs from the active margins of foot lesions of 261 sheep in 12 Merino sheep flocks in southeastern Australia were evaluated. DNA extracts taken from putative pure cultures of D. nodosus and directly from the swabs were evaluated in PCR assays for the 16S rRNA and fimA genes of D. nodosus Pure cultures were tested also by the slide agglutination test. Direct PCR using extracts from swabs was more sensitive than culture for detecting and serogrouping D. nodosus strains. Using the most sensitive sample collection method of the use of swabs in lysis buffer, D. nodosus was more likely to be detected by PCR in active than in inactive lesions, and in lesions with low levels of fecal contamination, but lesion score was not a significant factor. PCR conducted on extracts from swabs in modified Stuart’s transport medium that had already been used to inoculate culture plates had lower sensitivity. Therefore, if culture is required to enable virulence tests to be conducted, it is recommended that duplicate swabs be collected from each foot lesion, one in transport medium for culture and the other in lysis buffer for PCR.

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