Genetic differentiation between two species of the medicinal leech, Hirudo medicinalis and the neglected H. verbana, based on random-amplified polymorphic DNA.Parasitol Res. 2004 Sep; 94(2):118-24.PR
The medicinal leech is one of the few parasitic invertebrates widely used in medicine and as a scientific model object. Because of a dramatic decline in its natural populations, it is subject to considerable conservation effort. Despite all attention, there is confusion regarding the taxonomic status of different morphological forms. The prevailing view is that all varieties of medicinal leech in Europe represent the same species, Hirudo medicinalis. However, the present study based on RAPD molecular markers demonstrates that a second European taxon, H. verbana, forms a distinct species. Phenetic clustering and principal coordinate analysis of eight populations revealed the same basic structure, reflecting taxonomic rather than geographic subdivision. Variation between species explained 60% of the total molecular variance (phiCT=0.60, P<0.001). Both taxa displayed a significant number of specific RAPD markers. Conversely, no specific fragment supporting the geographic association of both taxa was found. Since the stronghold of commercially exploited medicinal leech populations in southeastern Europe and Turkey belongs to H. verbana, most medicinal and scientific applications probably use this species, not H. medicinalis. Appropriate taxonomic correction of international conservation conventions and legislation is essential.