State Water Resources Research Institute Program


Project ID: 2011PR129B
Title: The Population dynamics of the dominant Enterococci in the water systems of Puerto Rico.
Project Type: Research
Start Date: 3/10/2011
End Date: 2/30/2012
Congressional District: N/A
Focus Categories: Water Quality, Non Point Pollution, Ecology
Keywords: beaches, Enterococci, septic tanks, water quality, fecal pollution
Principal Investigator: Rios-Hernandez, Luis A (Univrsity of Puerto Rico)
Federal Funds: $ 20,000
Non-Federal Matching Funds: $ 32,046
Abstract: The Junta de Calidad Ambiental (JCA) has reported that the public beaches monitored in Puerto Rico such as Patillas beach is frequently found to be unsafe for swimmers due to the high levels of fecal indicator bacteria. This creates a health problem to everybody and ultimately to the government. Especially since the current method used in Puerto Rico do not accurately detects a recent human fecal contamination event; but it simply assumes that all enterococci present in a beach sample comes from human fecal matter.

In the research work within this proposal we intent to understand the population dynamics of the Enterococci and determine if the dominant yellow pigmented enterococci present in our beaches could come from human feces which have been subjected to different selective pressures imposed by their journey through the septic tank, creek/river, and finally the beach.

We propose to use a classical cultivation, quantification, and isolation of enterococci in combination with a molecular approach. The molecular approach will use DNA as a template for PCR of the tuf gen to identify the enterococci to the genus level and the atpA gene in conjunction with a double digestion (RFLP developed by the PI) to identify the enterococci to the species level and possibly proof clonality of the enterococci populations. In addition, we will amplify a set of 5 genes that contribute to their virulence to determine their distribution among environmental Enterococci isolates. The comprehensive analysis of all the data generated in this research proposal could potentially be used to understand the ecological role of the enterococci in these tropical environments, determine the population dynamics, the distribution of virulence factors among the population, and possibly create new water quality standards for Puerto Rico and perhaps other tropical environments.

Broader Impact: The establishment of this research project will allow our students (graduate and undergraduates) to become involved in a scientific investigation which will expose underrepresented minority students to new technologies and up-to-date research tools that have not been previously available. Furthermore, the participating students, three undergraduates and one graduate will have a unique opportunity to integrate community service with laboratory scientific work and engage in a teacher-student dynamic with the community members, in which some times they are students and other times they are the teachers.

Progress/Completion Report, 2011, PDF

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