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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Comparison of Escerichia coli and Camplobacter jejuni transport in saturated porous media

Authors
item Bolster, Carl
item Walker, Sharon - UC RIVERSIDE
item Cook, Kimberly

Submitted to: Journal of Environmental Quality
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: February 1, 2006
Publication Date: May 31, 2006
Repository URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10113/3815
Citation: Bolster, C.H., Walker, S.L., Cook, K.L. 2006. Comparison of Escerichia coli and Camplobacter jejuni Transport in Saturated Porous Media. Journal of Environmental Quality. 35:1018-1025 (2006)

Interpretive Summary: The infiltration of fecal material into the subsurface can be a significant source of contamination of groundwater supplies by enteropathogenic microorganisms resulting in serious gastrointestinal illnesses in both humans and livestock. Because pathogens are difficult to enumerate they are rarely tested for. Instead, nonpathogenic indicator organisms are used to determine whether a water supply has been contaminated by fecal material. The limitation to this approach is that it is unclear as to how well the presence of an indicator organism is correlated with the presence of a pathogenic organism. To address this we compared the transport behavior of Escherichia coli (E. coli), a commonly used indicator organism, and Campylobacter jejuni (C. jejuni), an important enteropathogen commonly found in agricultural wastes and the leading cause of gastroenteritis in the United States. Our results suggest that transport of C. jejuni can exceed that of E. coli when conditions favor low attachment rates, therefore calling into question the effectiveness of using E. coli as an indicator organism for this important pathogen under certain environmental conditions.

Technical Abstract: The infiltration of fecal material into the subsurface can be a significant source of contamination of groundwater supplies by enteropathogenic microorganisms resulting in serious gastrointestinal illnesses in both humans and livestock. Due to the difficulties in testing for specific pathogens, water samples are tested for the presence of nonpathogenic indicator organisms to determine whether a water supply has been contaminated by fecal material. An implicit assumption in this approach is that the transport and survival of the indicator organism is greater than that for all pathogenic microorganisms; yet surprisingly few studies have been conducted which directly compare the transport behavior of indicator organisms with pathogenic microorganisms in groundwater environments. In this study we compared the transport behavior of Escherichia coli (E. coli), a commonly used indicator organism, and Campylobacter jejuni (C. jejuni), an important enteropathogen, in laboratory columns containing either metal-oxyhydroxide coated sand or clean quartz sand. Under conditions favoring high bacterial attachment to sand grains (i.e., columns packed with metal-oxyhydroxide coated sand), the removal of C. jejuni exceeded that of E. coli. Under conditions favoring low bacterial attachment rates (i.e., columns packed with clean quartz sand), however, the removal of E. coli exceeded that of C. jejuni resulting in greater transport of C. jejuni compared to E. coli. Our results suggest that transport of C. jejuni can exceed that of E. coli when conditions favor low attachment rates, therefore calling into question the effectiveness of using E. coli as an indicator organism for this important pathogen under certain environmental conditions.

Last Modified: 9/1/2014
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