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Environ Sci Technol. 2007 Apr 1;41(7):2203-9.

Beach sand and sediments are temporal sinks and sources of Escherichia coli in Lake Superior.

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Department of Soil, Water, and Climate, Center for Microbial and Plant Genomics, and BioTechnology Institute, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, Minnesota 55108, USA.


The Duluth Boat Club (DBC) Beach, located in the Duluth-Superior harbor of Lake Superior, is frequently closed in summer due to high counts of Escherichia coli, an indicator of fecal contamination. However, the sources of bacteria contributing to beach closure are currently unknown. In this study, we investigated the potential sources of E. coli contaminating the DBC beach by using modified rep-PCR (HFERP) DNA fingerprinting. Over 3600 E. coli strains were obtained from 55 lake water, 25 sediment, and 135 sand samples taken from five transects at the DBC beach at 11 different times during the summer through fall months of 2004 and 2005. Potential sources of E. coli at this beach were determined by using a known-source DNA fingerprint library containing unique E. coli isolates from wildlife, waterfowl, and treated wastewater obtained near Duluth, MN. Amounts E. coli in the samples were enumerated by membrane filtration counting, and the presence of potentially pathogenic E. coli was determined by using multiplex PCR. E. coli counts in all samples increased during the summer and early fall (Julyto September). While E. coli in spring samples originated mainly from treated wastewater effluent, the percentage of E. coli from waterfowl increased from summer to fall. DNA fingerprint analyses indicated that some E. coli strains may be naturalized, and autochthonous members of the microbial community in the beach sand and sediments were examined. However, multiplex PCR results indicated that <1% of the E. coli strains at the DBC was potentially pathogenic. Our results also suggest that wave action may influence the early colonization and homogeneous distribution of E. coli in beach sand and the subsequent release of sand or sediment-borne E. coli into lake water. Taken together, these results indicate that sand and sediment serve as temporal sources and sinks of human and waterfowl-derived E. coli that contribute to beach closures.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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