Advances in the bacteriology of the coliform group: their suitability as markers of microbial water safety

Annu Rev Microbiol. 2001;55:201-34. doi: 10.1146/annurev.micro.55.1.201.


Advances in the elaboration of novel genomic types of beta-galactosidase-positive Enterobacteriaceae and comprehensive studies of their habitats have resulted in an innovative approach to the assessment of the merits and shortcomings of the thermotrophic and fecal species Escherichia coli and all other coliforms as markers of the microbiological safety of water. As one of the consequences, it is recommended to abolish the "technical" designation fecal coliforms because their current method of detection will result in the isolation of thermotrophic organisms that have been demonstrated, beyond a doubt, to be of environmental, rather than uniquely enteric origin. Additional population studies have demonstrated that none of the coliforms can function as reliable markers for all enteric pathogens (index organisms sensu Ingram), nor be of use in validating adequate processing for safety of raw water, which represents the indicator function of markers, as defined by Ingram. Future studies along these lines will have to provide the data required to assess the suitability of additional markers for the reliable monitoring of drinking water for microbiological safety.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Enterobacteriaceae / classification*
  • Enterobacteriaceae / enzymology
  • Feces / microbiology
  • Safety / standards*
  • Terminology as Topic
  • Water Microbiology / standards*
  • Water Supply / standards*
  • beta-Galactosidase / analysis


  • beta-Galactosidase