Bacterial Communities Associated with Lesions of Shell Disease in the American Lobster, Homarus americanus Milne-Edwards

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Published in: Journal of Shellfish Research, Vol. 31, No. 2, p. 449-462.


Shell disease in Crustacea is a widely recognized syndrome having a polymicrobial etiology, and manifesting itself as lesions of the shell with a variable structure and shell location. We characterized major members of bacterial communities in epizootic shell disease lesions of the American lobster (Homarus americanus, Milne Edwards) and compared these communities with the ones found in study cases of impoundment and enzootic shell disease. Bacteria belonging to several Flavobacteriaceae genera (Aquimarina, Tenacibaculum, Polaribacter, Maribacter, Cellulophaga) within the phylum Bacteroidetes appear to have particular attraction to lobster lesions. The most prominent Bacteroidetes in lobster lesions were representatives of the genus Aquimarina sp., but only Aquimarinahomaria’ was detected in all analyzed lesions of epizootic, impoundment, and enzootic shell disease. It was found on 45% of surfaces unaffected by shell disease, but in smaller numbers compared with lesions. Alphaproteobacteria represent the most diverse class of proteobacteria found in both lesions and on unaffected surfaces. Three bacteria of this class appear to be ubiquitous in shell disease lesions, but only one specific alphaproteobacterium tentatively assigned to the genus Thalassobius (herein designated as ‘Thalassobius’ sp.) was present in all analyzed lesions of epizootic, impoundment, and enzootic shell disease. A ubiquitous gammaproteobacterium called ‘Candidatus Homarophilus dermatus’ was also prevalent in lesions, but just as commonly it was associated with surfaces unaffected by shell disease. The bacteria A. ‘homaria’ and ‘Thalassobius’ sp. are dominant and appear obligatory in lobster shell lesions, and are only occasionally detected on unaffected surfaces, which serve as intermediate reservoirs for the two potential pathogens. Therefore, these two bacteria stand out as potential shell-disease pathogens.