Quo vadis source tracking? Towards a strategic framework for environmental monitoring of fecal pollution
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Advances in microbial source tracking (MST) have largely been driven by the need to comply with water quality standards based on traditional indicator bacteria. Recently, a number of culture-independent, and library-independent methods based on polymerase chain reaction (PCR) have been gaining popularity among source trackers. However, only a limited number of these methods have been successfully used in field applications, primarily due to the fact that many of them are still being developed. In this critical outlook, we examine different viewpoints associated with the practical use of MST to identify critical research gaps, propose a priority-based timeline to address them, and outline emerging technologies that will likely impact the future of source tracking. We propose that it is necessary to consider each of these aspects in order to advance towards a unifying framework in source identification, so that fecal pollution monitoring can be reliably used for comprehensive environmental microbial monitoring, to develop risk assessment models, and to implement and validate adequate management practices.
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