Adult schistosomes have an epithelial bacterial population distinct from the surrounding mammalian host blood

Geoffrey N. Gobert*, Donald P. McManus, Geoff McMullan, Christopher J. Creevey, Jack Carson, Malcolm K. Jones, Sujeevi S. K. Nawaratna, Kosala G. Weerakoon, Hong You*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Background: Schistosomiasis is a neglected tropical parasitic and chronic disease affecting hundreds of millions of people. Adult schistosomes reside in the blood stream of the definitive mammalian host. These helminth parasites possess two epithelial surfaces, the tegument and the gastrodermis, both of which interact with the host during immune evasion and in nutrient uptake.

Methods: Female ARC Swiss mice (4–6 weeks old) were infected percutaneously with Schistosoma japonicum cercariae freshly shed from Oncomelania hupensis quadrasi snails (Philippines strain). Fluorescent in situ hybridisation (FISH) was performed by using fresh adult S. japonicum perfused from those infected mice. Adult S. japonicum worms were processed to isolate the tegument from the carcass containing the gastrodermis; blood and bile were collected individually from infected and uninfected mice. Total DNA extracted from all those samples were used for microbiome profiling.

Results: FISH and microbiome profiling showed the presence of bacterial populations on two epithelial surfaces of adult worms, suggesting they were distinct not only from the host blood but also from each other. Whereas microbial diversity was reduced overall in the parasite epithelial tissues when compared with that of host blood, specific bacterial taxa, including Anoxybacillus and Escherichia, were elevated on the tegument. Minimal differences were evident in the microbiome of host blood during an active infection, compared with that of control uninfected blood. However, sampling of bile from infected animals identified some differences compared with controls, including elevated levels of Limnohabitans, Clostridium and Curvibacter.

Conclusions: Using FISH and microbial profiling, we were able to demonstrate, for the first time, that bacteria are presented on the epithelial surfaces of adult schistosomes. These schistosome surface-associated bacteria, which are distinct from the host blood microenvironment, should be considered as a new and important component of the host-schistosome interaction. The importance of individual bacterial species in relation to schistosome parasitism needs further elucidation.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0263188
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Gobert et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


  • Research Article
  • Biology and life sciences
  • Medicine and health sciences

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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