Performance of two quantitative PCR methods for microbial source tracking of human sewage and implications for microbial risk assessment in recreational waters

Christopher Staley, Katrina V. Gordon, Mary E. Schoen, Valerie J. Harwood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

83 Scopus citations

Abstract

Before new, rapid quantitative PCR (qPCR) methods for assessment of recreational water quality and microbial source tracking (MST) can be useful in a regulatory context, an understanding of the ability of the method to detect a DNA target (marker) when the contaminant source has been diluted in environmental waters is needed. This study determined the limits of detection and quantification of the human-associated Bacteroides sp. (HF183) and human polyomavirus (HPyV) qPCR methods for sewage diluted in buffer and in five ambient, Florida water types (estuarine, marine, tannic, lake, and river). HF183 was quantifiable in sewage diluted up to 10-6 in 500-ml ambient-water samples, but HPyVs were not quantifiable in dilutions of>10-4. Specificity, which was assessed using fecal composites from dogs, birds, and cattle, was 100% for HPyVs and 81% for HF183. Quantitative microbial risk assessment (QMRA) estimated the possible norovirus levels in sewage and the human health risk at various sewage dilutions. When juxtaposed with the MST marker detection limits, the QMRA analysis revealed that HF183 was detectable when the modeled risk of gastrointestinal (GI) illness was at or below the benchmark of 10 illnesses per 1,000 exposures, but the HPyV method was generally not sensitive enough to detect potential health risks at the 0.01 threshold for frequency of illness. The tradeoff between sensitivity and specificity in the MST methods indicates that HF183 data should be interpreted judiciously, preferably in conjunction with a more host-specific marker, and that better methods of concentrating HPyVs from environmental waters are needed if this method is to be useful in a watershed management or monitoring context.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7317-7326
Number of pages10
JournalApplied and environmental microbiology
Volume78
Issue number20
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 2012

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