Relationship of Human-Associated Microbial Source Tracking Markers with Enterococci in Gulf of Mexico Waters

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Biological Sciences


Human and ecosystem health can be damaged by fecal contamination of recreational waters. Microbial source tracking (MST) can be used to specifically detect domestic sewage containing human waste, thereby informing both risk assessment and remediation strategies. Previously, an inter-laboratory collaboration developed standardized PCR methods for a bacterial, an archaeal, and a viral indicator of human sewage. Here we present results for two subsequent years of field testing in fresh and salt water by five laboratories across the U.S. Gulf Coast (two in Florida and one each in Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas) using common standard operating procedures (SOPs) developed previously. Culturable enterococci were enumerated by membrane filtration, and PCR was used to detect three MST markers targeting domestic sewage: human-associated Bacteroides (HF183), Methanobrevibacter smithii and human polyomaviruses BK and JC (HPyVs). Detection of sewage markers in surface waters was significantly associated with higher enterococci levels and with exceedance of the recreational water quality standard in four or three regions, respectively. Sewage markers were frequently co-detected in single samples, e.g., M. smithii and HF183 were co-detected in 81% of Louisiana samples, and HPyVs and M. smithii were co-detected in over 40% of southwest Florida and Mississippi samples. This study demonstrates the robustness and inter-laboratory transferability of these three markers for the detection of pollution from domestic sewage in the waters impacting the Gulf of Mexico over a coastal range of over 1000 miles.

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Water Research





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