Detection of protozoan hosts for Legionella pneumophila in engineered water systems by using a biofilm batch test

R.M. Valster, B.A. Wullings, D. van der Kooij

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41 Citations (Scopus)


Legionella pneumophila proliferates in aquatic habitats within free-living protozoa, 17 species of which have been identified as hosts by using in vitro experiments. The present study aimed at identifying protozoan hosts for L. pneumophila by using a biofilm batch test (BBT). Samples (600 ml) collected from 21 engineered freshwater systems, with added polyethylene cylinders to promote biofilm formation, were inoculated with L. pneumophila and subsequently incubated at 37°C for 20 days. Growth of L. pneumophila was observed in 16 of 18 water types when the host protozoan Hartmannella vermiformis was added. Twelve of the tested water types supported growth of L. pneumophila or indigenous Legionella anisa without added H. vermiformis. In 12 of 19 BBT flasks H. vermiformis was indicated as a host, based on the ratio between maximum concentrations of L. pneumophila and H. vermiformis, determined with quantitative PCR (Q-PCR), and the composition of clone libraries of partial 18S rRNA gene fragments. Analyses of 609 eukaryotic clones from the BBTs revealed that 68 operational taxonomic units (OTUs) showed the highest similarity to free-living protozoa. Forty percent of the sequences clustering with protozoa showed 99.5% similarity to H. vermiformis. None of the other protozoa serving as hosts in in vitro studies were detected in the BBTs. In several tests with growth of L. pneumophila, the protozoa Diphylleia rotans, Echinamoeba thermarum, and Neoparamoeba sp. were identified as candidate hosts. In vitro studies are needed to confirm their role as hosts for L. pneumophila. Unidentified protozoa were implicated as hosts for uncultured Legionella spp. grown in BBT flasks at 15°C
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7144-7153
JournalApplied and Environmental Microbiology
Issue number21
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2010


  • free-living amebas
  • real-time pcr
  • hartmannella-vermiformis
  • balamuthia-mandrillaris
  • dictyostelium-discoideum
  • tetrahymena-pyriformis
  • temperature tolerance
  • intracellular growth
  • legionnaires-disease
  • resisting bacteria


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