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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2015 Aug;81(15):5037-47. doi: 10.1128/AEM.00855-15. Epub 2015 May 22.

Microbial Source Tracking in Adjacent Karst Springs.

Author information

National Public Health Laboratory Tel Aviv, Ministry of Health, Tel Aviv, Israel
Mekorot, Israel National Water Company, Tel Aviv, Israel.
National Public Health Laboratory Tel Aviv, Ministry of Health, Tel Aviv, Israel.
Faculty of Biotechnology and Food Engineering, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel.


Modern man-made environments, including urban, agricultural, and industrial environments, have complex ecological interactions among themselves and with the natural surroundings. Microbial source tracking (MST) offers advanced tools to resolve the host source of fecal contamination beyond indicator monitoring. This study was intended to assess karst spring susceptibilities to different fecal sources using MST quantitative PCR (qPCR) assays targeting human, bovine, and swine markers. It involved a dual-time monitoring frame: (i) monthly throughout the calendar year and (ii) daily during a rainfall event. Data integration was taken from both monthly and daily MST profile monitoring and improved identification of spring susceptibility to host fecal contamination; three springs located in close geographic proximity revealed different MST profiles. The Giach spring showed moderate fluctuations of MST marker quantities amid wet and dry samplings, while the Zuf spring had the highest rise of the GenBac3 marker during the wet event, which was mirrored in other markers as well. The revelation of human fecal contamination during the dry season not connected to incidents of raining leachates suggests a continuous and direct exposure to septic systems. Pigpens were identified in the watersheds of Zuf, Shefa, and Giach springs and on the border of the Gaaton spring watershed. Their impact was correlated with partial detection of the Pig-2-Bac marker in Gaaton spring, which was lower than detection levels in all three of the other springs. Ruminant and swine markers were detected intermittently, and their contamination potential during the wet samplings was exposed. These results emphasized the importance of sampling design to utilize the MST approach to delineate subtleties of fecal contamination in the environment.

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