The invasion of the Laurentian Great Lakes by the fish-parasitic sea lamprey has led to catastrophic consequences, including the potential introduction of fish pathogens. Aeromonas salmonicida is a bacterial fish pathogen that causes devastating losses worldwide. Currently, there are five accepted subspecies of Aeromonas salmonicida: A. salmonicida subsp. salmonicida, masoucida, smithia, achromogenes, and pectinolytica. We discuss the discovery of an isolate of A. salmonicida that is pathogenic to rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and exhibits unique phenotypic and molecular characteristics. We examined 181 adult sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus) from the Humber River (Lake Ontario watershed) and 162 adult sea lamprey from Duffins Creek (Lake Ontario watershed) during the spring seasons of 2005–11. Among those, 4/343 (1.2%) sea lamprey were culture positive for A. salmonicida, whereby biochemical and molecular studies identified three of the isolates as A. salmonicida subsp. salmonicida. The remaining isolate (As-SL1) recovered from Humber River sea lamprey was phenotypically more similar to A. salmonicida subsp. salmonicida than to the four other A. salmonicida subspecies. However, unlike A. salmonicida subsp. salmonicida, As-SL1 was sucrose positive, produced an acid-over-acid reaction on triple-sugar iron medium and did not amplify with A. salmonicida subsp. salmonicida specific primers. Phylogenetic analysis based on partial stretches of the 16S rRNA and DNA gyrase subunit B genes further confirmed that the As-SL1 isolate was not A. salmonicida subsp. masoucida, smithia, achromogenes, or pectinolytica. Based on our analyses, the As-SL1 isolate is either an unusual strain of A. salmonicida subsp. salmonicida or a novel A. salmonicida subspecies. The four A. salmonicida isolates that were recovered from sea lamprey were pathogenic to rainbow trout in experimental challenge studies. Our study also underscores the potential role of sea lamprey in the ecology of infectious fish diseases.
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Vol. 50 • No. 2