Entomological surveys of Simulium vectors are an important component in the criteria used to determine if Onchocerca volvulus transmission has been interrupted and if focal elimination of the parasite has been achieved. However, because infection in the vector population is quite rare in areas where control has succeeded, large numbers of flies need to be examined to certify transmission interruption. Currently, this is accomplished through PCR pool screening of large numbers of flies. The efficiency of this process is limited by the size of the pools that may be screened, which is in turn determined by the constraints imposed by the biochemistry of the assay. The current method of DNA purification from pools of vector black flies relies upon silica adsorption. This method can be applied to screen pools containing a maximum of 50 individuals (from the Latin American vectors) or 100 individuals (from the African vectors).
We have evaluated an alternative method of DNA purification for pool screening of black flies which relies upon oligonucleotide capture of Onchocerca volvulus genomic DNA from homogenates prepared from pools of Latin American and African vectors. The oligonucleotide capture assay was shown to reliably detect one O. volvulus infective larva in pools containing 200 African or Latin American flies, representing a two-four fold improvement over the conventional assay. The capture assay requires an equivalent amount of technical time to conduct as the conventional assay, resulting in a two-four fold reduction in labor costs per insect assayed and reduces reagent costs to $3.81 per pool of 200 flies, or less than $0.02 per insect assayed.
The absence of infective larvae of Onchocerca volvulus in the black fly vector of this parasite is a major criterion used to certify that transmission has been eliminated in a focus. This process requires screening large numbers of flies. Currently, this is accomplished by screening pools of flies using a PCR-based assay. The number of flies that may be included in each pool is currently limited by the DNA purification process to 50 flies for Latin American vectors and 100 flies for African vectors. Here, we describe a new method for DNA purification that relies upon a specific oligonucleotide to capture and immobilize the parasite DNA on a magnetic bead. This method permits the reliable detection of a single infective larva of O. volvulus in pools containing up to 200 individual flies. The method described here will dramatically improve the efficiency of pool screening of vector black flies, making the process of elimination certification easier and less expensive to implement.