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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Comparing the distribution of pathogenic bacteria and common indicator microorganisms in biofilms on different surface types in an agricultural watershed in British Columbia (Canada) Maal-Bared, Rasha


Little is known about the distribution of bacterial indicators and pathogens in biofilms on different surface types in natural aquatic environments. This study was conducted to examine the distribution of pathogens and indicator bacteria in biofilms in an agricultural watershed. The study particularly focused on whether biofilms can act as sinks for pathogenic organisms and could be monitored to protect public health. To do so, we monitored the presence of faecal contamination indicators (heterotrophic plate counts, faecal coliforms, enterococci, and E. coli) and particular pathogens (E. coli 0157, Campylobacter sp. and Salmonella sp.) in water, sediment, and in biofilms on river and slate rock, wood, sandpaper, and Lexan™ in Elk Creek (British Columbia, Canada) from December 2005 to April 2007. Faecal indicator concentrations and pathogen presence were evaluated using standard culturing and isolation methods. The results showed that both faecal indicators and pathogens were present at the headwaters and that the use of water column grab samples underestimated faecal indicator numbers. Also, water column grab samples during the dry season were not representative of pathogens present in the creek. This indicates that biofilms might be the main reservoir of Salmonella sp. and pathogenic E. coli O157 in the summer when rainfall (which results in flow changes and sloughing) is limited. Campylobacter sp. was not retrieved in the dry season. Campylobacter on sediment, slate rock and wood showed high correlations with nitrates and enterococci, which could be used as faecal contamination surrogates. Numbers of indicator organisms and pathogens in one-month biofilms were compared to those in long-term biofilms (colonized 12 and 24 weeks) and short-term biofilms (colonized one to three weeks). The comparison showed that surface type, colonization period and water quality all affected the concentration of indicator organisms and pathogens present in biofilms. Finally, results showed high levels of phenotypic antibiotic resistance of E. coli and pathogenic E. coli O157 isolated from the watershed (even at the headwaters), particularly to tetracycline, ampicillin and streptomycin. This study highlights the potential biofilms could play in prediction of water quality changes, the improvement of sampling methods, and the study of aquatic environments.

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