The main goal of this study was to compare the effectiveness of three staining techniques (calcofluor white M2R, Giemsa and modified trichrome), and the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) in detecting the microsporidium Thelohania solenopsae in red imported fire ants (Solenopsis invicta). The effect of the number of ants in a sample on the sensitivity of the staining techniques and the PCR, and the effect of three DNA extraction protocols on the sensitivity of PCR were also examined. In the first protocol, the ants were macerated and the crude homogenate was used immediately in the PCR. In the second protocol, the homogenate was placed on a special membrane (FTA card) that traps DNA, which is subsequently used in the PCR. In the third protocol, the DNA was purified from the homogenate by traditional phenol-chloroform extraction. Except for PCR using FTA cards, the sensitivity (number of samples positive for T. solenopsae) of all detection techniques increased with the number of ants in the sample. Overall, Giemsa was the least sensitive of all detection techniques. Calcofluor was more sensitive than modified trichrome with ants from one site and was equally as sensitive as PCR with crude DNA or a FTA card with ants from both sites. Trichrome staining was equally as sensitive as PCR with a FTA card at both sites, but it was less sensitive than PCR with crude DNA at one site. PCR on FTA cards was less sensitive than PCR with crude DNA for ants from one site but not the other. There was no difference whether crude or phenol-chloroform purified DNA was used as template.
In summary, the results of this study show that PCR based on a crude DNA solution is equal to or more sensitive in detecting T. solenopsae than the other detection techniques investigated, and that it can be used as a reliable diagnostic tool for screening field samples of S. invicta for T. solenopsae. Nevertheless, ant smear stained with calcofluor or modified trichrome should be used to buttress findings from PCR.