The genetic characteristics among Escherichia coli strains can be grouped by origin of isolation. Then, it is possible to use the genotypes as a tool to determine the source of water contamination. The aim of this study was to define water aptitude for human consumption in a rural basin and to assess the diversity of E. coli water populations. Thus, it was possible to identify the main sources of fecal contamination and to explore linkages with the hydrogeological environment and land uses. The bacteriological analysis showed that more than 50% of samples were unfit for human consumption. DNA fingerprinting analysis by BOX-PCR indicated low genotypic diversity of E. coli isolates taken from surface water and groundwater. The results suggested the presence of a dominant source of fecal contamination. The relationship between low genotypic diversity and land use would prove that water contamination comes from livestock. The genetic diversity of E. coli isolated from surface water was less than that identified in groundwater because of the different hydraulic features of both environments. Furthermore, each one of the two big strain groups identified in this basin is located in different sub-basins, showing that hydrological dynamics exerts selective pressure on bacteria DNA.

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