Aug 24, 2004

New Technology For Watershed Management Does DNA Analysis of Bacteria

Scientists and environmental agencies soon will be able to identify specific sources of water pollution by reading the bacterial "fingerprints" left at the scene

Millions of dollars are spent each year to combat bacterial contamination of water supplies, recreational waters, and shellfisheries in the U.S.

ENSR International's Research and Development (R&D) Program and the University of Massachusetts/Boston (UMass) are working together to solve this problem by demonstrating the use of "bacterial fingerprinting" technology on water samples from the Souhegan River in southern New Hampshire.

Using high resolution DNA "fingerprints," scientists will map profiles of various strains of E. coli bacteria to identify its specific sources of origin. For example, bacteria from humans (e.g., septic failures, illicit storm sewer hook-ups) can be differentiated from that of farm animals or wild animal populations.

ENSR water resource manager Dr. Kenneth Wagner explains, "Scientists and environmental agencies will be able to identify and target specific sources of water pollution, according to the bacterial 'fingerprints' left at the scene … This new technology has enormous potential to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of clean up efforts for water bodies."

ENSR and UMass scientists are now taking a second set of samples for DNA analysis of bacteria following a rainy period. The first samples were taken after a dry spell; the final round will follow an intense, short-duration storm.

The Souhegan River – which runs through residential, rural, agricultural, industrial and wilderness areas – was selected for its diverse study conditions.

ENSR's R&D Program has sponsored more than 90 innovative projects over the past 15 years.

A full-service environmental firm, ENSR International provides air and water quality services to industrial and government agency clients from 70 worldwide offices.