Twenty-seven Giardia duodenalis cyst-positive specimens (human, animal, or drinking water) were obtained from a waterborne outbreak in a community in British Columbia, western Canada. Parasite isolates were characterized using molecular techniques at 4 different steps of organism retrieval. None of the drinking water samples (n = 20) infected gerbils and none was successfully amplified using polymerase chain reaction (PCR). We were able to genotype 4 of 7 (human and animal) isolates by amplification of DNA from original specimens at the triosephosphate isomerase (tpi) gene locus using PCR followed by restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) analysis. Five of the original specimens inoculated into Mongolian gerbils (Meriones unguiculatus) were infective and genotyped at the tpi locus using parasite material collected from the gerbil (cysts and trophozoites). Pulsed field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) was used to biotype trophozoites collected from the gerbils as well as trophozoites from the 4 isolates that adapted to culture. Four of these 5 isolates displayed the same (designated outbreak) biotype at all parasite retrieval steps with all molecular techniques including the originally amplified isolates. PCR-RFLP identified an additional biotype group. The 4 isolates that adapted to in vitro culture were also characterized by isoenzyme electrophoresis (IE). Biotype groups identified in these axenized isolates were all the same with each molecular technique (PCR-RFLP, PFGE, IE) tested. Results of this study demonstrate a need for more sensitive molecular methods to detect and characterize Giardia in original host and environmental samples. Results are also consistent with evidence of biotype changes that occur during the presently used process of isolate retrieval.

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