3 Things to Know About Microbial Source Tracking


Microbial Source Tracking (MST) is a technique used to identify the source of fecal contamination in waterways. These microbes are the most common biological contaminant of waterways in the U.S. and have many negative effects as a result. Utilizing Microbial Source Tracking helps to identify pollution sources, and create predictions for the future to curb impact. By understanding the source of contaminants and being able to adapt for the future is critical in preventing further impacts on public health, the economy, and the surrounding environment and ecology.

1. Microbial Contamination and Human Health 

One of the most common microbes found in waterways is Coliform. Escherichia Coliform, or E. Coli, is one of the most well-known bacteria in this subgroup. The presence of E.Coli in water has long been used as an indicator of fecal contamination. It is a bacteria that is commonly found in the intestines, however, it is generally harmless. Certain strains of E. Coli can enter waterways and when consumed, lead to gastrointestinal issues, such as abdominal discomfort, and moderate to severe vomiting and diarrhea. Healthy adults typically can recover from E. Coli sickness within a week, but children and elderly populations may struggle, leading to more serious complications.

Many other common microbes in water cause similar illnesses in humans when consumed. In vulnerable populations such as children, elderly, or people with limited access to medical treatment gastrointestinal distress can be life-threatening.

2. Microbial Contamination and the Economy

Contaminated waterways also contribute to economic loss. One instance is if harmful bacteria is identified at a beach, requiring the area to be closed to visitors. In places that rely on the fishing industry, polluted water affects the harvesting process. Another common impact of contaminated water is run-off to farms. This leads to food-borne illnesses via polluted water, which contaminates crops that are sold to stores and restaurants. Food-borne illnesses lead to products being recalled or restaurant closures until the situation has been resolved.

3. Microbial Source Tracking and the Future 

Traditionally, the identification of certain microbes in water was the key way to trace the source of contamination. Many of these bacteria are linked to humans or other warm-blooded animals. By further breaking down the genetic makeup of these microbes, scientists are able to link bacteria to species and make inferences about their environment. Finding these patterns within a group of hosts is important in understanding how a specific environment can contribute to the formation of certain microbes.

The continuation of different Microbial Source Tracking methods will be beneficial in understanding potential environmental contributors. This is critical in preventing future impacts and losses to the environment, economy, and human health.