Distinguishing human and possum faeces using PCR markers

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Courtesy of IWA Publishing

Specificity testing of two published polymerase chain reaction (PCR) markers for the detection of human faecal pollution, revealed 100% false-positive rates to brush-tailed possum faeces (n = 10), but low false-positive rates against other potential pollution sources. Cross-reaction with possums could be a problem with other human-specific markers; therefore, a possum PCR marker was developed for use in conjunction with human PCR markers. The possum PCR marker was based on Bacteroidales 16S ribosomal ribonucleic acid sequences, and was tested on 233 individual faecal samples from 11 other animal species. Sensitivity of the possum marker in possum faeces (n = 36) was high at 83.3%. Cross-reactivity of the possum marker was limited to black swan (7/20 samples), human (2/48 samples) and rabbit (1/10) faecal samples, all at marker concentrations at least four orders of magnitude lower than possum faeces. The possum marker was not detected in human sewage or the faeces of other animal species. Specificity of the possum PCR marker, therefore, was high at 95.7%. To exclude the possibility that only possum pollution is being detected, additional testing by other faecal source tracking methods is required where the water sample is positive for both human and possum markers.

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