Unhealthy levels of bacteria, specifically Escherichia coli (E. coli), in waterways is a leading concern for South Carolina, with an estimated millions of dollars spent in planning, monitoring, and addressing these failures to meet water quality standards in rivers and lakes. A bacteria monitoring result only informs a watershed manager that there is or is not a bacteria concern for a waterway. These results do not inform the watershed manager of the source of bacteria loading. The possible sources are many, including all species of wildlife, domestic pets, sewage, livestock, and waterfowl.
Knowing the relative source of bacteria amongst these currently available will help the watershed manager determine the most effective next steps for a targeted approach to restore waterway health. For instance, many thousands of dollars could be spent on infrastructure improvements and wastewater line extensions, without making a change in water quality impairment, if human inputs are not the actual issue.
Pilot Technical Service
Microbial source tracking is an emerging technology to source the species of bacteria loading and cause for failure to meet state and federal thresholds. Specifically, Clemson University is piloting a technical service using qPCR, or quantitative polymerase chain reaction, to quantify loading from warm-blooded mammals. Species available for detection are swine, bovine, human, and dog.
qPCR is a genetic method that quantifies targeted DNA sequences using a fluorescently tagged probe created to seek that matching sequence. The amount of fluorescence resulting is directly proportional to the amount of amplified DNA. The method is not geographic dependent, meaning no library of information and DNA sequences needs to first be developed for species specific to an area. This makes for a more rapid and cost-effective assessment, typically, and is often referred to as real-time PCR.
Laboratory tests are being performed in partnership with the Clemson University Molecular Plant Pathogen Detection Lab. This laboratory, equipment, and staff, are certified annually by the USDA to perform qPCR to detect plant and honeybee pathogens. This pilot presents an opportunity to utilize available equipment and professional laboratory staff to provide an additional service to meet the needs of South Carolina's resource managers, protect water resources, and provide tools towards more informed watershed management.