Persistence of Nucleic Acid Markers of Health-Relevant Organisms in Seawater Microcosms: Implications for Their Use in Assessing Risk in Recreational Waters

Water Res. 2009 Nov;43(19):4929-39. doi: 10.1016/j.watres.2009.05.047. Epub 2009 Jun 13.


In the last decade, the use of culture-independent methods for detecting indicator organisms and pathogens in recreational waters has increased and has led to heightened interest in their use for routine water quality monitoring. However, a thorough understanding of the persistence of genetic markers in environmental waters is lacking. In the present study, we evaluate the persistence of enterococci, enterovirus, and human-specific Bacteroidales in seawater microcosms. Two microcosms consisted of seawater seeded with human sewage. Two additional seawater microcosms were seeded with naked Enterococcus faecium DNA and poliovirus RNA. One of each replicate microcosm was exposed to natural sunlight; the other was kept in complete darkness. In the sewage microcosms, concentrations of enterococci and enterovirus were measured using standard culture-dependent methods as well as QPCR and RT-QPCR respectively. Concentrations of human-specific Bacteroidales were determined with QPCR. In the naked-genome microcosms, enterococci and enterovirus markers were enumerated using QPCR and RT-QPCR, respectively. In the sewage microcosm exposed to sunlight, concentrations of culturable enterococci fell below the detection limit within 5 days, but the QPCR signal persisted until the end of the experiment (day 28). Culturable enterococci did not persist as long as infectious enteroviruses. The ability to culture enteroviruses and enterococci was lost before detection of the genetic markers was lost, but the human-specific Bacteroidales QPCR signal persisted for a similar duration as infectious enteroviruses in the sewage microcosm exposed to sunlight. In the naked-genome microcosms, DNA and RNA from enterococci and enterovirus, respectively, persisted for over 10d and did not vary between the light and dark treatments. These results indicate differential persistence of genetic markers and culturable organisms of public health relevance in an environmental matrix and have important management implications.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Bacteroidetes / genetics
  • Bacteroidetes / isolation & purification*
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • Enterococcus / genetics
  • Enterococcus / isolation & purification*
  • Enterococcus faecium / genetics
  • Enterococcus faecium / isolation & purification
  • Enterovirus / genetics
  • Enterovirus / isolation & purification*
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods*
  • Genetic Markers
  • Poliovirus / genetics
  • Poliovirus / isolation & purification
  • RNA, Viral / genetics
  • Recreation
  • Risk Assessment
  • Seawater / chemistry
  • Seawater / microbiology*
  • Seawater / virology
  • Sewage / microbiology
  • Sewage / virology
  • Water Pollutants / isolation & purification*


  • DNA, Bacterial
  • Genetic Markers
  • RNA, Viral
  • Sewage
  • Water Pollutants