New molecular techniques and recent advances in the science of microbiology can make the detection of harmful microorganisms and contaminated water faster and more accurate than ever, a new report from the American Academy of Microbiology says.
Development of direct molecular tests for use in the environment is the key to strong early warning systems, more reliable diagnostics, and better treatment and cleanup of microbial pathogens in water and shellfish that threaten public health and economies worldwide.
The current standard method for water testing has been used for more than 100 years to detect and count "indicator" bacteria. Water samples are exposed to nutrients and then incubated to encourage the growth of bacteria that usually thrive in the human colon, so growth of the "coliform" bacteria indicates fecal contamination.
Such testing cannot pinpoint the source of contamination or detect disease-causing viruses like Hepatitis A or E, indigenous pathogenic bacteria like Helicobacter, or parasites like Cryptosporidium. Current testing practices cannot help to identify or prevent the enteric waterborne diseases that kill up two 2 million of the world's children each year.
"Reevaluation of Microbial Water Quality: Powerful New Tools for Detection and Risk Assessment," outlines gene probes, genotyping, antibody, and PCR (polymerase chain reaction) techniques that stand to replace outdated methods.
The promising technologies can aid in identifying microbes suspected of causing disease and confronting emerging problems like antibiotic resistant bacteria and the geographic spread of harmful microbes that can come from increased globalization.
The report presents the conclusions of a panel of experts who spent several days deliberating the issues in March of 2000. It discusses the fundamental importance of ensuring water quality and assesses progress since the Academy first addressed the subject 5 years ago.