A DNA-based assay was developed to detect Aeromonas salmonicida from infected fish by analyzing tissues, feces, and the tank water in which the infected fish were held. This analysis was done both by direct detection from samples and after a bacterial outgrowth step. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplification of a 421-bp sequence from the 3' region of the surface array protein gene (vapA) of A. salmonicida provided a specific and sensitive method for the detection and identification of this important fish pathogen. The sensitivity of PCR detection of A. salmonicida directly from tissues was less than 10 CFU/mg. Furthermore, a detection level of 5 fg, equivalent to approximately 1 cell, was obtained by using purified chromosomal DNA as the template. This highly reproducible assay, which requires 45 min to complete, is therefore sensitive enough to be used as a noninvasive method for monitoring fish populations for the presence of carrier fish. Because the surface protein array (A-layer) is a virulence factor of A. salmonicida, PCR analysis with oligonucleotide primers directed at vapA can also be used to provide information on the potential virulence of a strain
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