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Age-related shifts in the density and distribution of genetic marker water quality indicators in cow and calf feces

Orin C. Shanks, Catherine A. Kekty, Lindsay Peed, Mano Sivaganesan, Thomas Mooney, Michael Jenkins
Applied and environmental microbiology 2014 v.80 pp. 1588-1594
Enterococcus, Escherichia coli, animal age, bacteria, calves, cows, diet, feces, genetic markers, nonpoint source pollution, parturition, pathogens, polymerase chain reaction, surface water, water pollution, water quality, weaning
Calves (= 226 kg body mass) make up about 16% of the current bovine population in the United States and can excrete high levels of human pathogens. We describe the density and distribution of genetic markers from 11 PCR- and real-time quantitative PCR-based assays including CF128, CF193, Bac2, Bac3, CowM2, CowM3, GenBac3, Entero1, EC23S857, CampF2, and ttr-6 commonly used to help assess ambient surface water quality. Each assay was tested against a collection of 381 individual bovine fecal samples representing 31 mother and calf pairings collected over a 10 month time period from time of birth through weaning. Genetic markers reported to be associated with ruminant and/or bovine fecal pollution were completely absent in calves for up to approximately 115 days from birth suggesting that physiological changes in calf ruminant function impact host-associated genetic marker shedding. In addition, general fecal indicator markers for Bacteroidales, E. coli, and Enterococcus spp. exhibited three separate trends across time indicating that these bacteria respond differently to age-related physiological and dietary changes during calf development. Results of this study suggest that currently available PCR-based water quality indicator technologies can under- or overestimate fecal pollution originating from calves and identify a need for novel calf-associated source identification methods.