In this study, a quantitative species-specific polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method to rapidly detect E. histolytica in water is developed. First, the specificity of E. histolytica PCR detection was verified by using species-specific primers of 16S-like rRNA genes to clearly differentiate it from the closely related amoebae species E. dispar and E. moshkovskii. The sensitivity of this method was subsequently determined using purified E. histolytica genomic DNA and culture cells as PCR reaction templates. Results indicated that conventional PCR visualized on 1% agarose gel was able to detect as low as 0.02 pg genomic DNA and 5 cells, while real-time PCR could detect 0.01 pg genomic DNA and 2 cells of E. histolytica. The protocols for E. histolytica PCR detection in real water samples were then optimized by spiking E. histolytica cells into tap water and reservoir raw water samples. A two-round centrifugation treatment to concentrate amoeba cells directly as a PCR template was the most effective way to detect E. histolytica in spiked tap water samples, while DNA extraction after concentrating amoeba cells was required for spiked reservoir raw water samples. The detection limit of 50 E. histolytica cells in 100 ml tap water was achieved in 2 h from sample collection to real-time PCR data readout. With these established protocols, 78 tap water samples, 11 reservoir raw water samples and 4 feed water samples from Singapore water supply systems were analyzed by both conventional PCR and real-time PCR methods. No E. histolytica cell was detected in tested samples.

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