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J Appl Microbiol. 2005;99(3):618-28.

Evaluation of antibiotic resistance analysis and ribotyping for identification of faecal pollution sources in an urban watershed.

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Orange County Public Health Laboratory, Santa Ana, CA, USA.



The accuracy of ribotyping and antibiotic resistance analysis (ARA) for prediction of sources of faecal bacterial pollution in an urban southern California watershed was determined using blinded proficiency samples.


Antibiotic resistance patterns and HindIII ribotypes of Escherichia coli (n = 997), and antibiotic resistance patterns of Enterococcus spp. (n = 3657) were used to construct libraries from sewage samples and from faeces of seagulls, dogs, cats, horses and humans within the watershed. The three libraries were analysed to determine the accuracy of host source prediction. The internal accuracy of the libraries (average rate of correct classification, ARCC) with six source categories was 44% for E. coli ARA, 69% for E. coli ribotyping and 48% for Enterococcus ARA. Each library's predictive ability towards isolates that were not part of the library was determined using a blinded proficiency panel of 97 E. coli and 99 Enterococcus isolates. Twenty-eight per cent (by ARA) and 27% (by ribotyping) of the E. coli proficiency isolates were assigned to the correct source category. Sixteen per cent were assigned to the same source category by both methods, and 6% were assigned to the correct category. Addition of 2480 E. coli isolates to the ARA library did not improve the ARCC or proficiency accuracy. In contrast, 45% of Enterococcus proficiency isolates were correctly identified by ARA.


None of the methods performed well enough on the proficiency panel to be judged ready for application to environmental samples.


Most microbial source tracking (MST) studies published have demonstrated library accuracy solely by the internal ARCC measurement. Low rates of correct classification for E. coli proficiency isolates compared with the ARCCs of the libraries indicate that testing of bacteria from samples that are not represented in the library, such as blinded proficiency samples, is necessary to accurately measure predictive ability. The library-based MST methods used in this study may not be suited for determination of the source(s) of faecal pollution in large, urban watersheds.

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