BACKGROUND: Bluetongue disease of ruminants is a typical insect-borne disease caused by bluetongue virus (BTV) of the genus Orbivirus (family Reoviridae) and transmitted by some species of Culicoides (Diptera: Ceratopogonidae). Recently, the detection of BTV in yaks in high altitude meadows of the Shangri-La district of Yunnan Province, China, prompted an investigation of the Culicoides fauna as potential vectors of BTV.
METHODS: A total of 806 Culicoides midges were collected by light trapping at three sites at altitudes ranging from 1800 to 3300 m. The species were identified based on morphology and the DNA sequences of cytochrome c oxidase subunit 1 (cox1). PCR and quantitative PCR following reverse transcription were used to test for the presence of BTV RNA in Culicoides spp. A phylogenetic analysis was used to analyze the cox1 sequences of some specimens.
RESULTS: Four species dominated these collections and cox1 barcoding revealed that at least two of these appear to belong to species new to science. Culicoides tainanus and a cryptic species morphologically similar to C. tainanus dominated low altitude valley collections while C. nielamensis was the most abundant species in the high-altitude meadow. A species related to C. obsoletus occurred at all altitudes but did not dominate any of the collections. BTV RT-qPCR analysis detected BTV RNA in two specimens of C. tainanus, in one specimen closely related to C. tainanus and in one specimen closely related to C. obsoletus by barcode sequencing.
CONCLUSIONS: This study suggests that BTV in high altitude areas of Yunnan is being transmitted by three species of Culicoides, two of which appear to be new to science. This research may be useful in improving understanding of the effects of global warming on arboviral disease epidemiology and further study is important in research into disease control and prevention.