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Correlation of crAssphage qPCR Markers with Culturable and Molecular Indicators of Human Fecal Pollution in an Impacted Urban Watershed

Elyse Stachler, Benay Akyon, Nathalia Aquino de Carvalho, Christian Ference, Kyle Bibby
Environmental science & technology 2018 v.52 no.13 pp. 7505-7512
quantitative polymerase chain reaction, public health, humans, monitoring, indicator species, sewage, Polyomaviridae, Enterococcus, pathogens, streams, watersheds, pollution, coliphages, rain, genetic markers, Escherichia coli
Environmental waters are monitored for fecal pollution to protect public health. Many previously developed human-specific fecal pollution indicators lack adequate sensitivity to be reliably detected in environmental waters or do not correlate well with viral pathogens. Recently, two novel human sewage-associated source tracking qPCR markers were developed based on the bacteriophage crAssphage, CPQ_056 and CPQ_064. These assays are highly human specific, abundant in sewage, and are viral-based, suggesting great promise for environmental application as human fecal pollution indicators. A 30-day sampling study was conducted in an urban stream impacted by combined sewer overflows to evaluate the crAssphage markers’ performance in an environmental system. The crAssphage markers were present at concentrations of 4.02–6.04 log₁₀ copies/100 mL throughout the study period, indicating their high abundance and ease of detection in polluted environmental waters. In addition, the crAssphage assays were correlated with rain events, molecular markers for human polyomavirus and HF183, as well as culturable E. coli, enterococci, and somatic coliphage. The CPQ_064 assay correlated strongly to a greater number of biological indicators than the CPQ_056 assay. This study is the first to evaluate both crAssphage qPCR assays in an extended environmental application of crAssphage markers for monitoring of environmental waters. It is also the first study to compare crAssphage marker concentration with other viral-based indicators.