Previous molecular examination of Acanthamoeba spp. has resulted in the determination of distinct genotypes in this genus (designated T1-T12, T14). Genotype T4 has been responsible for the majority of cases of Acanthamoeba keratitis. Here we examine the relative abundance of environmental T4 isolates on beaches and ask whether they have temperature and salinity tolerances that could enhance pathogenicity. Twenty-four Acanthamoeba strains were isolated from beach sand (n = 20), soil (n = 3), and tap water (n = 1) in south Florida. Phylogenetic analysis identified 19 of 24 isolates as T4, the Acanthamoeba keratitis-associated genotype. The remaining isolates were genotype T5 (4) and T11 (1). Nearly all beach isolates were genotype T4, whereas the tap water and soil isolates were mostly T5. All amoebae grew at 0, 1.0, and 2.0% salt and 19 of 20 beach isolates also grew at 3.2%. No soil or tap-water acanthamoebae reproduced at 3.2%. All isolates grew at 37 °C and two (T5) at 42 °C. Little correlation existed between beach location, salt-tolerance, and genetic relatedness. Overall, the large majority of environmental isolates obtained were genotype T4, suggesting it may be the most common genotype in this environment and could be a potential source of Acanthamoeba keratitis infections.
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Vol. 51 • No. 2