Missouri Researchers Discover Bacteria Pollution Culprits

April 12, 2001

Researchers from the University of Missouri developed ribotyping, a DNA-based test that can differentiate between human and animal sources of fecal bacterial pollution. In order to begin the remediation process, the source of bacteria (i.e., E. coli) must be identified. Knowing where the pollution is coming from–whether from farms, sewers or wildlife–also could help environmental managers to control the pollution source.

The test is used to identify and classify bacteria based on genetic differences, which has been previously used but has not been enlisted to differentiate between human and animal sources of fecal bacteria.

In the study, the researchers tested the ability of ribotyping to distinguish between human and animal sources of fecal bacteria, and to identify the source as one of seven different types of animals including cattle, swine, horses, chickens, turkeys, dogs and migratory geese.

The test had an accuracy of more than 97 percent in distinguishing between human and nonhuman sources, and had a high degree of accuracy identifying the animal source.

Fecal bacterial pollution can lead to disease outbreaks in humans and wildlife. Too much fecal pollution, often from agricultural runoff, also is linked to algae blooms that can create dead zones in waterways and bays.

The project, "Identification of fecal Escherichia coli from humans and animals by ribotyping," was undertaken by researchers C. Andrew Carson, Brian Shear, Mark Ellersieck, and Amha Asfaw.

Source: University of Missouri

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