DNA Techniques Allow Scientists To Become Pollution Detectives.

June 27, 1996

GAINESVILLE---Just when you thought you'd heard enough about DNA testing from the so-called "Trial of the Century," University of Florida researchers are using the same science to police polluters.

With the oft-mentioned DNA "fingerprint" test, scientists at UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences are able to accurately point the finger at who is polluting water bodies by isolating E. coli bacteria in water samples and testing it for resistance to antibiotics and by testing its DNA.

"E. coli is present in the digestive tracts of all warm-blooded animals," said Mark Tamplin, a professor of home economics at UF/IFAS. "By testing the E. coli (present in fecal matter) for antibiotic resistance and looking at the DNA chains, we can tell if it is human pollution or animal pollution. Different animals will have different E. coli and will have greater DNA patterns because there are more animal species. Humans have fewer DNA patterns."

Tamplin and his research team, working with a grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Estuarine Research Reserve System, studied pollution at two sites in Florida: Rookery Bay near Naples on Florida's southwest coast, and Apalachicola Bay, an oyster-harvesting area in North Florida.

About 90 percent of all Florida oysters are harvested in the Apalachicola Bay area. Lee Edmiston, research coordinator at the Apalachicola Bay reserve who helped collect water samples for the two-year survey, said bacteria from pollutants causes fecal coliform counts to rise. When the counts get too high, the state, fearing illness from consumption of raw oysters, closes the bay to oyster harvesting.

"There's always been a question as to whether the bacteria was natural or manmade," Edmiston said. "There was never a way to differentiate that before this research."

Initial testing pointed the finger in both directions, the UF scientists found.

"Both entities, human and animals were polluting, but wildlife causes a significant amount of pollution in Apalachicola Bay," Tamplin said.

From their testing in the bay, UF scientists have developed a database of more than 1,000 E. coli strains that will serve as a model for testing in other water bodies.

"E. coli is a very convenient organism to test for," Tamplin said. "We use E. coli to measure the probability of other harmful bacteria in the water. We hope to be able to have folks send us water samples and to run these tests on it for them. We think this type of test could be used all over the country to detect pollution in water."

Despite hours of complex testimony in the O.J. Simpson trial, the DNA "fingerprint" testing used by the UF scientists is fairly simple to understand, Tamplin said. Picture a thread that represents one person or animal. By taking one thread from one entity and another thread from someone else and then applying an enzyme to it, the enzyme will cut each thread in different places.

"Then, we look at the number of cuts and where they are to determine if it is a person or an animal," Tamplin explained. "What we start to see are patterns that emerge and they are different in humans than in wildlife."

Edmiston said knowing where the pollution came from could help save time and money spent devising solutions to protect the environment.

"Down the road, these techniques could be used to help us manage our problems," Edmiston said. "There is good potential here to help us develop management plans for different sources of pollution."


University of Florida

Related Bacteria Articles from Brightsurf:

Siblings can also differ from one another in bacteria
A research team from the University of Tübingen and the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF) is investigating how pathogens influence the immune response of their host with genetic variation.

How bacteria fertilize soya
Soya and clover have their very own fertiliser factories in their roots, where bacteria manufacture ammonium, which is crucial for plant growth.

Bacteria might help other bacteria to tolerate antibiotics better
A new paper by the Dynamical Systems Biology lab at UPF shows that the response by bacteria to antibiotics may depend on other species of bacteria they live with, in such a way that some bacteria may make others more tolerant to antibiotics.

Two-faced bacteria
The gut microbiome, which is a collection of numerous beneficial bacteria species, is key to our overall well-being and good health.

Microcensus in bacteria
Bacillus subtilis can determine proportions of different groups within a mixed population.

Right beneath the skin we all have the same bacteria
In the dermis skin layer, the same bacteria are found across age and gender.

Bacteria must be 'stressed out' to divide
Bacterial cell division is controlled by both enzymatic activity and mechanical forces, which work together to control its timing and location, a new study from EPFL finds.

How bees live with bacteria
More than 90 percent of all bee species are not organized in colonies, but fight their way through life alone.

The bacteria building your baby
Australian researchers have laid to rest a longstanding controversy: is the womb sterile?

Hopping bacteria
Scientists have long known that key models of bacterial movement in real-world conditions are flawed.

Read More: Bacteria News and Bacteria Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.