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Trends Microbiol. 2014 Dec;22(12):697-706. doi: 10.1016/j.tim.2014.08.002. Epub 2014 Sep 5.

Discovering new indicators of fecal pollution.

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School of Freshwater Sciences, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, WI, USA. Electronic address:
Josephine Bay Paul Center, Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, MA, USA.


Fecal pollution indicators are essential to identify and remediate contamination sources and protect public health. Historically, easily cultured facultative anaerobes such as fecal coliforms, Escherichia coli, or enterococci have been used but these indicators generally provide no information as to their source. More recently, molecular methods have targeted fecal anaerobes, which are much more abundant in humans and other mammals, and some strains appear to be associated with particular host sources. Next-generation sequencing and microbiome studies have created an unprecedented inventory of microbial communities associated with fecal sources, allowing reexamination of which taxonomic groups are best suited as informative indicators. The use of new computational methods, such as oligotyping coupled with well-established machine learning approaches, is providing new insights into patterns of host association. In this review we examine the basis for host-specificity and the rationale for using 16S rRNA gene targets for alternative indicators and highlight two taxonomic groups, Bacteroidales and Lachnospiraceae, which are rich in host-specific bacterial organisms. Finally, we discuss considerations for using alternative indicators for water quality assessments with a particular focus on detecting human sewage sources of contamination.


alternative indicators; fecal indicators; microbial communities; next-generation sequencing; oligotyping; sewage; water quality

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