Isolation and Phylogenetic Analysis of Free-Living Amoebae (Acanthamoeba, Naegleria, and Vermamoeba) in the Farmland Soils and Recreational Places in Iran



Free-living amoeba (FLA) including Acanthamoeba spp., Balamuthia mandrillaris, and Naegleria are among the soil-born parasites. There are reports of FLA-related keratitis with a history of contact with soil and dust sources, particularly among the farmers. Due to lack of the previous studies on the farmland soils and a limited number of researches conducted on recreational soils in Iran, the present study was conducted.


A total of 93 soil samples including farming lands and recreational places were tested for the presence of Acanthamoeba spp. Balamuthia mandrillaris, Naegleria, and Vermamoeba using morphological key and sequencing-based tools. Pathogenicity of Acanthamoeba positive strains was also evaluated. To verify genetic associations and taxonomic status of isolated amoeba, a phylogenetic tree was built by MEGA 5.05 software inferred by the 18S rRNA gene based on maximum likelihood algorithm.


Overall, 28 samples (30%) were contaminated with potentially pathogenic FLA, and according to the sequencing data, 17 strains were successfully sequenced. The isolated Acanthamoeba belonged to T2, T4, T5, mixed T4 and T5 contaminations, and T11. ITS sequencing revealed the occurrence of one strain of Naegleria canariensis. Four strains of Vermamoeba vermiformis were also confirmed. Morphological survey and PCR assay failed to show any positive results for Balamuthia mandrillaris. Pathogenic potential of the Acanthamoeba strains showed that T2, T4, and T11 genotypes were highly pathogenic, whereas T5 genotypes demonstrated lower pathogenic potential.


The results indicate that soil could be a serious hazard to human health, and therefore, further studies are expected to investigate the source of infection in patients developing FLA-related diseases. The present study is the first to investigate FLA in the farmland soils in Iran and the first to report the presence of N. canariensis in the country.

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This study was funded by the Vice-Chancellor of Research Affairs, Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences, Tehran, Iran (Grant No: 13660-5).

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Correspondence to Maryam Niyyati.

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Pazoki, H., Niyyati, M., Javanmard, E. et al. Isolation and Phylogenetic Analysis of Free-Living Amoebae (Acanthamoeba, Naegleria, and Vermamoeba) in the Farmland Soils and Recreational Places in Iran. Acta Parasit. 65, 36–43 (2020).

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  • Free-living amoebae
  • Soil
  • Iran