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Survival and persistence of human and ruminant-specific faecal Bacteroidales in freshwater microcosms


  • Sarah P. Walters,

    1. Stanford University, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Environment and Energy Building, 473 Via Ortega, Stanford, CA 94305, USA.
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  • Katharine G. Field

    Corresponding author
    1. Oregon State University, Department of Microbiology, 220 Nash Hall, Corvallis, OR 97331, USA.
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Amplification of host-specific markers from Bacteroidales faecal anaerobes can rapidly identify the source of faecal pollution. It is necessary to understand persistence and survival of these markers and marker cells, both to interpret quantitative source-tracking data, and to use such data to predict pathogen occurrence. We measured marker persistence and cell survival of two human (HF134, HF183) and two ruminant (CF128, CF193) faecal Bacteroidales markers, compared with Escherichia coli and enterococci. Freshwater microcosms were inoculated with fresh cattle or human faeces and incubated at 13°C in natural light or darkness. Marker persistence was measured by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and quantitative PCR. Survival of marker cells was measured by real-time quantitative PCR. There was no difference in persistence between the two human-specific Bacteroidales DNA markers in the light and dark microcosms. Cell survival profiles of the two human markers were also similar; both were significantly affected by light. Ruminant markers persisted and survived longer than human markers (14 versus 6 days respectively). CF193 decreased more rapidly than CF128, and light significantly affected CF128 but not CF193. These results support use of host-specific faecal Bacteroidales markers as indicators of recent faecal pollution, but suggest that caution is needed in interpreting quantitative results to indicate proportional contribution of different sources, as individual markers differ in their survival, persistence and response to environmental variables. The survival and persistence profiles for Bacteroidales markers are consistent with survival profiles for several faecal pathogens.