Microbial source tracking of private well water samples across at-risk regions in southern Ontario and analysis of traditional fecal indicator bacteria assays including culture and qPCR Journal Articles uri icon

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  • Many people living in rural areas rely on privately owned wells as their primary source of drinking water. These water sources are at risk for fecal contamination of human, wildlife, and livestock origin. While traditional bacteriological testing involves culture-based methods, microbial source tracking (MST) assays present an opportunity to additionally determine the source of fecal contamination. This study investigated the main host sources of contamination in private well water samples with high levels of Escherichia coli (E. coli), using MST with human and multi-species specific markers. Fecal contamination of human origin was detected in approximately 50% of samples, indicating that current contamination prevention strategies require reconsideration. The relationship between cattle density and fecal contamination of bovine origin was investigated using a Bovine Bacteroidales specific MST assay. Regional variations of microbial sources were examined, and may inform local primary prevention strategies. Additionally, in order to assess MST and E. coli quantitative real time polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) assays as indicators of fecal contamination, these were compared to E. coli culture methods. Variation in results was observed across all assay methods investigated, suggesting the most appropriate routine bacteriological testing methodology cannot be determined without comparison to a method that directly detects the presence of fecal contamination.


  • Krolik, Julia
  • Maier, Allison
  • Thompson, Shawna
  • Majury, Anna

publication date

  • December 1, 2016