Relative decay of Bacteroidales microbial source tracking markers and cultivated Escherichia coli in freshwater microcosms
Dick, L.K.; Stelzer, E.A.; Bertke, E.E.; Fong, D.L.; Stoeckel, D.M.
Applied and Environmental Microbiology 76(10): 3255-3262
Fecal indicator bacteria (FIB), commonly used to regulate sanitary water quality, cannot discriminate among sources of contamination. The use of alternative quantitative PCR (qPCR) methods for monitoring fecal contamination or microbial source tracking requires an understanding of relationships with cultivated FIB, as contamination ages under various conditions in the environment. In this study, the decay rates of three Bacteroidales 16S rRNA gene markers (AllBac for general contamination and qHF183 and BacHum for human-associated contamination) were compared with the decay rate of cultivated Escherichia coli in river water microcosms spiked with human wastewater. The following five sets of microcosms were monitored over 11 days: control, artificial sunlight, sediment exposure, reduced temperature, and no autochthonous predation. Decay was characterized by estimation of the time needed to produce a 2-log reduction (t(99)). No treatment-associated differences in the decay of the 4 targets were evident except with reduced predation, where E. coli, qHF183, and BacHum markers had lower levels of decay by day 3. However, there were substantial target-associated differences. Decay curves for the AllBac marker indicated a larger persistent population than those of the other targets. Exposure to sunlight, sediment, and reduced predation resulted in more rapid decay of the human-associated markers relative to cultivable E. coli, but there were no differences in t(99) values among the 4 targets under control conditions or at reduced temperatures. Further evaluation of epidemiological relationships will be needed in order to relate the markers directly to health risk. These findings suggest that the tested human-associated markers can complement E. coli as indicators of the human impact on sanitary water quality under the constrained conditions described in this paper.