The application of nucleic acid hybridization techniques in the identification of most protozoan parasites, using species-specific DNA probes, has recently been described by several investigators. Species-specific DNA probes have been employed in the characterization of trypanosome infections in cattle and tsetse from Uganda. Most infections revealed by our DNA probes were mixed. Using these probes, a mixed infection with Trypanosoma brucei, T. vivax and both savannah and Kilifi types of T. congolense was revealed in one cow. This mixed infection could not have been detected by any of the classical parasitological methods. Isolates made from natural field infections, which had been passaged in laboratory animals, were found to consist of homogeneous trypanosome species. This was demonstrated in all of 47 stabilates which were homogeneous infections either of savannah type T. congolense or T. brucei.
The method of sample preparation for DNA probe analysis was modified to suit field conditions. The samples, which were spot-blotted onto nylon filters and either immediately denatured or left undenatured, could be kept at room temperature for 1 month with only a moderate loss of hybridization signal intensities. Although hybridization signals were visible in undenatured samples, those seen with the samples that had been denatured were clearly more intense. This approach eliminates the need for liquid nitrogen and/or an incubator in the field. The simplicity, sensitivity and specificity of this diagnostic technique using species-specific DNA probes, make it an important tool for future studies of the epidemiology of African trypanosomiases.