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  • 1 National Homeland Security Research Center, US Environmental Protection Agency, USA
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Transmission of Francisella tularensis, the etiologic agent of tularemia, has been associated with various water sources. Survival of many waterborne pathogens within free-living amoeba (FLA) is well documented; however, the role of amoebae in the environmental persistence of F. tularensis is unclear. In this study, axenic FLA cultures of Acanthamoeba castellanii, Acanthamoeba polyphaga, and Vermamoeba vermiformis were each inoculated with virulent strains of F. tularensis (Types A and B), the attenuated live vaccine strain, and Francisella novicida. Experimental parameters included low and high multiplicity of infection and incubation temperatures of 25 and 30 °C for 0–10 days. Francisella spp. survival was enhanced by the presence of FLA; however, bacterial growth and protozoa infectivity were not observed. In contrast, co-infections of A. polyphaga and Legionella pneumophila, used as an amoeba pathogen control, resulted in bacterial proliferation, cytopathic effects, and amoebal lysis. Collectively, even though short-term incubation with FLA was beneficial, the long-term effects on Francisella survival are unknown, especially given the expenditure of available amoebal derived nutrients and the fastidious nature of Francisella spp. These factors have clear implications for the role of FLA in Francisella environmental persistence.

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