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The poo detectives

The Australian Water Quality Centre (AWQC ) is using ground-breaking DNA technology to identify the source of faecal contamination in water sources. By tracking environmental DNA we can determine which animal (or organism) is present in, or impacting, a particular water source. All that is required to identify organisms are 1 litre samples of water or 1 gram samples of soil or sludge.

Environmental DNA is DNA from the gut cells and bacteria that are unique to that organism.

It can be extremely difficult to implement management plans when pollution comes from many potential sources. Our ‘fingerprinting’ methods have the ability to identify who is contributing to the pollution whereas traditional culture-based methods only tell you if and when faecal contamination is present.

By combining bacterial barcoding and fingerprinting, a unique fingerprint can be created to track the organisms that cause problems in water supplies. The technology can be used for sanitary surveys by targeting vertebrates such as cows, humans or even zebra, if needed. You can even focus on a particular set of animals, such as fish, for biodiversity surveys and conservation.

AWQC has invested in robotic technologies to automate this process and create the most effective and rapid testing possible in this area. During an emergency, a result can be produced in 4-6 hours — one of the fastest turnaround times in the industry.

Each one of us has bacteria in our gut unique to us! By using this technology it’s possible to tell if you swam through the water!

This technology allows utilities to eliminate or manage the source of faecal contamination. Better risk assessment and source water management can save hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure and water treatment costs. For example, you may not have to move a bore when the known animal sources contaminating that water have been identified and appropriately managed. AWQC has successfully used this technology to support its customers address groundwater issues for bores. The results were published in an international journal and were recognised by the American Ground Water Association. See AWQC news article posted on the 10th August.

The value of this technique is being recognised more across the industry, with AWQC currently assisting a major interstate water supply utility monitor for E. coli and Enterococci blooms, in order to prevent serious water quality incidents.

Many new DNA tests are being developed by the AWQC which will generate opportunities for clients to manage their water supplies more effectively. If you would like more information please contact AWQC on 1300 65 33 66 or send us an email at awqc@sawater.com.au.