Microbe Detectives - DNA Analysis of Surface Water
The EPA has estimated that up to 3.5 million people per year become ill due to contact with raw sewage from sanitary sewer overflows, and that ten percent of all water samples taken from American beaches exceed the protective benchmark for swimmer safety. Illnesses associated with polluted beach water include stomach flu, skin rashes, pinkeye, respiratory infections, meningitis, and hepatitis. Regulatory agencies and municipal water operators rely on total coliform tests to provide an assessment of water quality. Positive coliform detections indicate there may be fecal pollution in the water. This may be misleading because coliform tests include several fecal bacteria as well as many naturally occurring environmental bacteria not associated with fecal contamination. In addition, coliform tests are not effective in tracking the source of the contamination. They can not distinguish human-associated bacteria from things like animals or birds.
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Benefits of Surface Water DNA Analysis
- Biological contamination can come from sewage overflows, agricultural run off, birds, and other sources.
- DNA methods distinguish each type of source. For instance, humans, cows, horses, pigs and birds can be distinguished.
- Once the source is understood, it can be tracked to where it came from much more accurately and efficiently than is possible with any other type of microbiological analysis.
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