BACKGROUND: Ovine footrot is a contagious disease with worldwide occurrence in sheep. The main causative agent is the fastidious bacterium Dichelobacter nodosus. In Scandinavia, footrot was first diagnosed in Sweden in 2004 and later also in Norway and Denmark. Clinical examination of sheep feet is fundamental to diagnosis of footrot, but D. nodosus should also be detected to confirm the diagnosis. PCR-based detection using conventional PCR has been used at our institutes, but the method was laborious and there was a need for a faster, easier-to-interpret method. The aim of this study was to develop a TaqMan-based real-time PCR assay for detection of D. nodosus and to compare its performance with culturing and conventional PCR. METHODS: A D. nodosus-specific TaqMan based real-time PCR assay targeting the 16S rRNA gene was designed. The inclusivity and exclusivity (specificity) of the assay was tested using 55 bacterial and two fungal strains. To evaluate the sensitivity and harmonisation of results between different laboratories, aliquots of a single DNA preparation were analysed at three Scandinavian laboratories. The developed real-time PCR assay was compared to culturing by analysing 126 samples, and to a conventional PCR method by analysing 224 samples. A selection of PCR-products was cloned and sequenced in order to verify that they had been identified correctly. RESULTS: The developed assay had a detection limit of 3.9 fg of D. nodosus genomic DNA. This result was obtained at all three laboratories and corresponds to approximately three copies of the D. nodosus genome per reaction. The assay showed 100% inclusivity and 100% exclusivity for the strains tested. The real-time PCR assay found 54.8% more positive samples than by culturing and 8% more than conventional PCR. CONCLUSIONS: The developed real-time PCR assay has good specificity and sensitivity for detection of D. nodosus, and the results are easy to interpret. The method is less time-consuming than either culturing or conventional PCR.
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