The Pathogenic Amoeboflagellate Naegleria fowleri: Environmental Isolations, Competitors, Ecologic Interactions, and the Flagellate-Empty Habitat Hypothesis


  • This investigation was supported in part by research contracts 3A062110A822 and 3A061120B71Q from the Medical Research and Development Command, U.S. Army, Washington, D.C. The opinions or assertions contained herein are the private views of the author and are not to be construed as official or as reflecting the views of the Department of the Army or the Department of Defense. In conducting the research described in this report, the investigators adhered to the “Guide for Laboratory Animal Facilities and Care,” as promulgated by the Committee on the Guide for Laboratory Animal Facilities and Care of the Institute of Laboratory Animal Resources, National Academy of Sciences-National Research Council.


From several surveys of environmental sites, the virulent human pathogen, Naegleria fowleri, was isolated from a pond in Georgia, a sewage treatment plant in Missouri, and from the Potomac and Anacostia rivers near and in Washington, D.C. Widely scattered, sparse populations seemed only a potential threat to human health at the time of sampling. The data support an estimate that the sites sampled contain 10,000 typical, low temperature, bactivorous amoebae for each heat tolerant amoeba able to grow at 45° C. Heat tolerant competitors were much more common than N. fowleri. Naegleria lovaniensis, which is heat tolerant but nonpathogenic, was isolated from and downstream from an open air thermal pollution temperature gradient. Hot piles of composting sewage sludge yielded no amoeboflagellates, many heat tolerant (45–49° C) amoebae, and one thermophilic (52° C) Acanthamoeba. Features of the methods used include two-stage incubation to increase isolation of sparse organisms and distinction of N. fowleri from almost all other amoebae on agar plates. The flagellate-empty habitat hypothesis postulates a general model in which human intervention and/ or natural events remove usual competitors and the ability to transform to a motile flagellate confers an advantage in recolonizing.