Abstract

Fecal contamination is one of the factors causing deterioration of Laguna Lake. Although total coliform levels are constantly monitored, no protocol is in place to identify their origin. This can be addressed using the library-dependent microbial source tracking (MST) method, repetitive element sequence-based polymerase chain reaction (rep-PCR) fingerprinting. Serving as a prerequisite in developing the host-origin library, we assessed the discriminatory power of three fingerprinting primers, namely BOX-A1R, (GTG)5, and REP1R-1/2-1. Fingerprint profiles were obtained from 290 thermotolerant Escherichia coli isolated from sewage waters and fecal samples of cows, chickens, and pigs from regions surrounding the lake. Band patterns were converted into binary profiles and were classified using the discriminant analysis of principal components. Results show that: (1) REP1R-1/2-1 has a low genotyping success rate and information content; (2) increasing the library size led to more precise estimates of library accuracy; and (3) combining fingerprint profiles from BOX-A1R and (GTG)5 revealed the best discrimination (average rate of correct classification (ARCC) = 0.82 ± 0.06) in a two-way categorical split; while (4) no significant difference was found between the combined profiles (0.74 ± 0.15) and using solely BOX-A1R (0.76 ± 0.09) in a four-way split. Testing the library by identifying known isolates from a separate dataset has shown that a two-way classification performed better (ARCC = 0.66) than a four-way split (ARCC = 0.29). The library can be developed further by adding more representative isolates per host source. Nevertheless, our results have shown that combining profiles from BOX-A1R and (GTG)5 is recommended in developing the MST library for Laguna Lake.

INTRODUCTION

Laguna Lake, the largest lake in the Philippines, has experienced continued deterioration over the past years. The surrounding communities, estimated to have a population size of around 15 million people, benefit from the lake through various agricultural, industrial, and domestic uses (Laguna Lake Development Authority 2018). However, these communities introduce waste into the system, and the intensive demand coupled with high pollution load contributed to the decline in water quality (Santos-Borja & Nepomuceno 2006; WAVES 2016). In fact, monitoring activities by the Laguna Lake Development Authority, the agency that is primarily responsible for the lake's development, revealed fecal contamination in the lake and high total coliform counts in most of its tributaries. These pose serious public health problems since pathogens from infected sources can be introduced into the environment through feces, ultimately causing risks to public health and the economy (Ahmed et al. 2009; Ballesté et al. 2010). Although the extent of the contamination is known, there is no information pertaining to their origin. Knowledge on sources of fecal contamination is critical because it can (1) allow development of management schemes to minimize their input, (2) aid in restoration and remediation efforts, (3) evaluate health risks, and (4) reduce the danger of disease outbreaks (Hagedorn et al. 1999; Gourmelon et al. 2007; Graves et al. 2007; Okabe et al. 2007; Ballesté et al. 2010). One way to identify sources of fecal contamination is through microbial source tracking (MST).

MST is a collection of methods that utilize microorganisms to identify and quantify dominant sources of fecal contamination in a given system (Scott et al. 2002; Stoeckel & Harwood 2007). The methods are broadly categorized into either (1) library-dependent (LDM) or (2) library-independent (LIM), depending on the need to develop a culture library of known host sources that will serve as a database for identifying unknown isolates (Gomi et al. 2014). Genotypic methods, a subclass of LDM that utilizes genetic fingerprinting techniques, rely on the genetic variation of indicator bacteria to develop the library (Scott et al. 2002). Among these methods is repetitive element sequence-based polymerase chain reaction (rep-PCR), a technique that targets repetitive palindromic sequences that are widespread in bacterial genomes (Versalovic et al. 1991). Compared to other genetic fingerprinting methods, rep-PCR is easier, less technically demanding, faster, cheaper, and displays better reproducibility, while generating relatively more efficient and reliable results that are easy to interpret, making it a practical approach for source tracking fecal contamination (Dombek et al. 2000; Scott et al. 2002; Carson et al. 2003; Mott & Smith 2011; Kheiri & Akhtari 2017).

The success of MST-LDM depends on the culture library. Several factors must be considered during its development including the rep-PCR marker used, library representativeness and size (Mohapatra et al. 2007; Mott & Smith 2011). There are several rep-PCR markers that are commonly used for genotyping, and each tends to generate different fingerprint profiles thereby affecting library accuracy (Mohapatra et al. 2007). Meanwhile, there is a need to profile greater than 600 isolates per host source to account for the genetic diversity of the microbial indicator and refine the size and representativeness of the library (Mott & Smith 2011). Developing a library that meets the recommended size while using many primers demands considerable resources. Therefore, as a screening step, it is necessary to evaluate the discriminatory power of several primers on a small number of samples first. This is to ensure that resource allocation is maximized toward the development of an accurate fingerprint library.

Our objective was to assess the discriminatory power of three rep-PCR fingerprinting primers in source tracking fecal contamination in Laguna Lake. The primers, namely BOX-A1R, (GTG)5 and REP1R-1/2-1, were selected since they had the highest average rate of correct classification (ARCC) based on a comparative study by Mohapatra et al. (2007). We also employed the composite analysis to assess the accuracy of the different primer combinations. Using thermotolerant Escherichia coli as the microbial indicator, we populated the reference library with isolates from sewage waters and fecal samples from cows, chickens, and pigs. Initial site surveys and consultations with stakeholders identified these host sources as major contributors of fecal contamination to the lake. Furthermore, we also assessed library performance based on its categorical split – that is the number of categories in the library in which the isolates will be categorized. In this regard, we have designed a two-way split (Agricultural–Domestic) and a four-way split (Chicken–Cow–Pig–Sewage) library. We aimed to answer the following questions: (1) How did an increase in library size affect its performance? (2) Was a two-way split better than a four-way split? (3) Which among the primers or primer combinations were best suited in source tracking fecal contamination to Laguna Lake? (4) How accurate was the library in source tracking known isolates? To the best of our knowledge, this is the first initiative to perform MST on the Philippines' largest lake.

METHODS

Sample collection

Fecal samples were collected from potential agricultural animal host sources (i.e., chicken, cows, and pigs) in backyard farms located in the provinces of Laguna and Rizal (Figure 1). Sewage samples representing human-derived contamination were also collected from sewage treatment facilities of Manila Water and Laguna Water, as well as in sewage waters from Metro Manila draining toward Laguna Lake. Collected samples were stored in ice and were transported to the Pathogen–Host–Environment Interactions Research Laboratory (PHEIRL) of the Natural Sciences Research Institute (NSRI), the University of the Philippines Diliman for processing within 24 h after collection. Sample collection was done from July 2017 to July 2018.

Figure 1

Sample collection sites for constructing the reference library. Colors indicate the types of sample that were collected. Inset shows the geographical location relative to the island of Luzon. Please refer to the online version of this paper to see this figure in color: http://dx.doi.org/10.2166/wh.2019.042.

Figure 1

Sample collection sites for constructing the reference library. Colors indicate the types of sample that were collected. Inset shows the geographical location relative to the island of Luzon. Please refer to the online version of this paper to see this figure in color: http://dx.doi.org/10.2166/wh.2019.042.

Isolation and identification of thermotolerant E. coli

Fecal samples from each animal source at a given site were pooled and 10 g were aseptically transferred into a sterile flask containing 0.9% saline solution (90 mL). After vigorous mixing, the mixture was serially diluted up to 10−7 using 0.9% saline solution (30 mL) as a diluent. Meanwhile, sewage samples were serially diluted up to 10−10 using the same diluent. Serial dilutions, done in duplicates, were filtered through a GN-6 Metricel membrane (47 mm diameter, 0.45 μm pore size; Pall Corp., USA) using a vacuum pump (Millipore, USA). The membrane filters were placed on modified membrane-thermotolerant E. coli (mTEC) agar (BD Difco, USA) and incubated at 37 °C for 2 h, then to 42 °C for 18–24 h. Identities of presumptive E. coli isolates, characterized by blue to violet colonies on mTEC plates, were further confirmed using eosin methylene blue agar (EMBA; BD BBL, USA). Isolates that exhibited a green metallic sheen on EMBA were selected for DNA extraction and additional molecular identification based on the protocol by Garcia et al. (2015), with slight modifications.

DNA was extracted using the boil-lysis DNA extraction method. Briefly, E. coli grown on trypticase soy broth (BD BBL, USA) for 18–24 h were harvested through centrifugation (10,000 × g, 10 min). The harvested pellet was washed with sterile distilled water (1,000 μL), eluted (100 μL), and then heated (100 °C, 15 min). Afterwards, the supernatant (50 μL) was collected in a fresh microtube and was used as a template for molecular identification. This was done by amplifying the 75 bp fragment of the E. coli uidA gene using the primers ECN1254F (5′-GCAAGGTGCACGGGAATATT-3′) and ECN1328R (5′-CAGGTGATCGGACGCGT-3′). The 10 μL PCR mixture was composed of the following: GoTaq Green Master Mix (1 × , Promega, USA), forward and reverse primers (0.50 μM each), template DNA (1 μL), and an appropriate amount of PCR water. The PCR was performed in a thermal cycler (C1000, Bio-Rad, USA) with the following cycling conditions: initial denaturation (98 °C, 2 min); 35 cycles of denaturation (95 °C, 30 s), annealing (63 °C, 1 min), and extension (72 °C, 1 min); and final extension (72 °C, 5 min). A no-template control (NTC) was included in every run. Templates that generated the expected band size were selected for DNA fingerprinting.

DNA fingerprinting

Three primers were employed for fingerprinting (Mohapatra et al. 2007): (1) BOX-A1R (5′-CTACGGCAAGGCGACGCTGACG-3′); (2) (GTG)5 (5′-GTGGTGGTGGTGGTG-3′); and (3) REP1R-I (5′-IIIICGICGICATCIGGC-3′) and REP2-I (5′-ICGICTTATCIGGCCTAC-3′) (hereafter referred to as BOX, GTG, and REP, respectively). The 10 μL PCR mixture for each setup was composed of the following: GoTaq Green Master Mix (1×, Promega, USA), primer (1 μM), template DNA (1 μL), and the appropriate amount of PCR water. The PCR was performed with similar cycling conditions for all primers (Kheiri & Akhtari 2017): initial denaturation (94 °C, 5 min); 30 cycles of denaturation (94 °C, 20 s), annealing (52 °C, 30 s), and extension (72 °C, 1 min); and final extension (72 °C, 10 min). The NTC was included in every run.

The resulting amplicons were subjected to agarose gel electrophoresis (2%, 190 V, 60 min), and the gels were visualized using a gel documentation system (Bio-print ST4, Vilber Lourmat, UK). The analysis of banding patterns was done with an imaging system (SuperMegaCapt ST4 v.16.08 g, Vilber Lourmat, UK); band positions were normalized using a 1 kb molecular ladder (Hyperladder, Bioline, USA) as an external reference. Only a single observer performed the gel analysis to minimize variability attributed to multiple observers.

Fingerprint analysis

The statistical analysis was performed using the programming language, R v.3.5.0 (R Core Team 2017). Band positions were adjusted by binning their molecular weight (MW) to the nearest 20 bp. The binned MW was then converted into a binary sequence based on their presence (1) or absence (0) across samples. Isolates from a particular host source having identical binary sequences were collapsed into a single observation; this decloning step has shown to improve prediction and library representativeness (Wiggins et al. 2003; Mott & Smith 2011). In addition, composite profiles that integrated the binary sequence from all primers were included in the analysis. The library was prepared depending on how the host sources were categorized: in a two-way split, the categories were (1) domestic (sewage isolates) and (2) agricultural (animal fecal isolates); in a four-way split, the categories were (1) sewage, (2) chicken, (3) cow, and (4) pig.

Library accuracy was assessed using discriminant analysis of principal components (DAPCs) as implemented in the package, adegenet (Jombart 2008). To prevent classification bias leading to either overfitting or underfitting of the model, cross-validation was done 100 times (training set = 0.9). The number of principal components (PCs) with the least mean square error was carried over for the discriminant analysis (DA). The rate of correct classification (RCC; the percentage of isolates from a given host source that were correctly classified) and the average rate of correct classification (ARCC; percentage of the isolates correctly classified in all host categories; Mohapatra et al. 2007) were calculated by creating a confusion matrix between the observed and predicted categories using the package, caret (Kuhn et al. 2018).

The trend in ARCC as a function of the library size was also considered. To remove biases associated with disproportionate libraries (Mott & Smith 2011), the equal number of isolates from each host source (nhost) was randomly selected from the sample pool before subjecting them to DAPC. The value of nhost was increased by multiples of ten and the classification was iterated 100 times. Afterwards, the mean and 95% confidence interval (CI) of the ARCC were calculated. Lastly, the variation was compared (1) among rep-PCR markers within a categorical split and (2) between categorical split within a rep-PCR marker. For the former, the Kruskal–Wallis test was used followed by the post-hoc pairwise Wilcoxon test (p-values were adjusted using Bonferroni correction). For the latter, the Wilcoxon rank-sum test was used. The alpha level of significance (α) was set to 0.05 for all statistical tests.

Library testing

Once the optimal marker combination was determined, we tested the constructed library using a separate dataset. The test dataset was composed of E. coli from known sources that were subjected to similar assays and data preparation used in library construction. We used the predict.dapc function in order to categorize the test dataset based on the fingerprint library. This function calculated the posterior probability of each isolate in the test dataset; the category with the highest posterior probability was considered as the most probable identity of an isolate. This was done on both the two-way and four-way categorical split.

RESULTS

DNA fingerprinting

Rep-PCR profiles of 290 thermotolerant E. coli from various host sources were obtained using three primers. The host sources were from domestic sewage (n = 110) and agricultural animals (chicken, cow, pig; n = 60 each) (Figure 2). Fingerprint profiles, specifically the number of bands and the range of their MWs, are summarized in Table 1. BOX and GTG had a high percentage of amplification success (98 and 99%, respectively). In contrast, fewer samples amplified using REP (70%). In addition, more complex profiles were generated by BOX and GTG, while only a few REP unique profiles remained after identical profiles were collapsed (40%). Since REP had a low genotyping success rate and minimal information content, it was considered ineffective and was omitted from the succeeding analyses.

Table 1

Rep-PCR fingerprint profiles obtained from the MST markers evaluated

MST markerHost sourceAverage band countRange of band count
Range of band size (bp)
MinimumMaximumMinimumMaximum
BOX Domestic 11 <20 1,800 
Agricultural <20 1,440 
GTG Domestic 20 1,660 
Agricultural 20 960 
REP Domestic 20 1,040 
Agricultural 40 860 
MST markerHost sourceAverage band countRange of band count
Range of band size (bp)
MinimumMaximumMinimumMaximum
BOX Domestic 11 <20 1,800 
Agricultural <20 1,440 
GTG Domestic 20 1,660 
Agricultural 20 960 
REP Domestic 20 1,040 
Agricultural 40 860 
Figure 2

Representative gel profiles and the number of isolates processed for primer assessment.

Figure 2

Representative gel profiles and the number of isolates processed for primer assessment.

Library performance

The library was assessed by increasing the number of representatives per host source (nhost) in multiples of ten and then subjecting the dataset to 100 iterations of the classification model. Given the categorical classification of the isolates in the current sample pool, greater nhost was evaluated for a two-way split (max nhost = 100) than the four-way split (max nhost = 40).

Two generalizations could be inferred from the results (Figure 3). First, increasing nhost led to decreasing mean and 95% CI of ARCC. Second, for the two-way categorical split, the mean and CI of ARCC stabilized as sample size increased. However, the same cannot be said for the four-way split since not enough nhost was obtained to observe stability in the distribution. This preliminary assessment provides an estimate of the ARCC of the rep-PCR marker used prior to maximizing the library.

Figure 3

Change in the ARCC as a function of the sample size. The dataset was partitioned based on the categorical split used. The shaded region represents the 95% CI obtained from 100 iterations of the classification model.

Figure 3

Change in the ARCC as a function of the sample size. The dataset was partitioned based on the categorical split used. The shaded region represents the 95% CI obtained from 100 iterations of the classification model.

In assessing the differences between the categorical split, the distribution at nhost = 30 was used to allow comparison among the markers used. Overall, a two-way split performed better than a four-way split. The Wilcoxon rank-sum test consistently showed significantly a higher ARCC in a two-way split for BOX (two-way = 0.83 ± 0.09, four-way = 0.77 ± 0.09; p < 0.05), GTG (two-way = 0.78 ± 0.10, four-way = 0.63 ± 0.12; p < 0.05), and BOX–GTG (two-way = 0.82 ± 0.09, four-way = 0.74 ± 0.15; p < 0.05).

Marker selection

In assessing the differences among markers, the ARCC distribution at maximum nhost was used. Based on the Kruskal–Wallis test, there was a statistically significant difference among the ARCC obtained from different marker types, both for two-way (H(2) = 109.75, p < 0.05) and four-way (H(2) = 55.74, p < 0.05) categorical split. For the two-way split (Table 2), the highest mean ARCC was from BOX–GTG (0.82 ± 0.06), followed by BOX (0.79 ± 0.04), and lastly, GTG (0.72 ± 0.05); the Wilcoxon rank-sum test revealed significant differences in all pairwise comparisons even after Bonferroni correction. For the four-way split (Table 3), no significant difference was found between BOX–GTG (0.74 ± 0.15) and BOX (0.76 ± 0.09). In contrast, GTG (0.63 ± 0.12) was significantly lower than the other two. These results suggest that for a two-way split, the best marker is BOX–GTG, whereas for a four-way split, it could either be BOX or BOX–GTG.

Table 2

Assignment of E. coli isolates to host source in a two-way categorical split

MarkerHost sourceNRate of classification (%) of E. coli isolates in the assigned group
ARCC (%)
AgriculturalDomestic
BOX Agricultural 100 82.00 25.00 78.50 
Domestic 100 18.00 75.00  
GTG Agricultural 100 77.00 33.00 72.00 
Domestic 100 23.00 67.00  
BOX–GTG Agricultural 100 84.00 21.00 81.50 
Domestic 100 16.00 79.00  
MarkerHost sourceNRate of classification (%) of E. coli isolates in the assigned group
ARCC (%)
AgriculturalDomestic
BOX Agricultural 100 82.00 25.00 78.50 
Domestic 100 18.00 75.00  
GTG Agricultural 100 77.00 33.00 72.00 
Domestic 100 23.00 67.00  
BOX–GTG Agricultural 100 84.00 21.00 81.50 
Domestic 100 16.00 79.00  

Values shown are means obtained from 100 iterations of the DAPC. N indicates the number of isolates from each host source. The percentages of isolates that were correctly assigned are in bold.

Table 3

Assignment of E. coli isolates to host source in a four-way categorical split

MarkerHost sourceNRate of classification (%) of E. coli isolates in the assigned group
ARCC (%)
ChickenCowPigSewage
BOX Chicken 40 67.50 10.00 10.00 10.00 76.25 
Cow 40 17.50 82.50 5.00 10.00 
Pig 40 12.50 5.00 80.00 7.50 
Sewage 40 5.00 5.00 5.00 75.00 
GTG Chicken 40 70.00 12.50 17.50 15.00 64.38 
Cow 40 7.50 67.50 12.50 12.50 
Pig 40 17.50 15.00 62.50 15.00 
Sewage 40 5.00 5.00 7.50 57.50 
BOX–GTG Chicken 30 73.33 6.67 10.00 10.00 74.17 
Cow 30 10.00 76.67 10.00 10.00 
Pig 30 10.00 10.00 73.33 6.67 
Sewage 30 6.67 6.67 6.67 73.33 
MarkerHost sourceNRate of classification (%) of E. coli isolates in the assigned group
ARCC (%)
ChickenCowPigSewage
BOX Chicken 40 67.50 10.00 10.00 10.00 76.25 
Cow 40 17.50 82.50 5.00 10.00 
Pig 40 12.50 5.00 80.00 7.50 
Sewage 40 5.00 5.00 5.00 75.00 
GTG Chicken 40 70.00 12.50 17.50 15.00 64.38 
Cow 40 7.50 67.50 12.50 12.50 
Pig 40 17.50 15.00 62.50 15.00 
Sewage 40 5.00 5.00 7.50 57.50 
BOX–GTG Chicken 30 73.33 6.67 10.00 10.00 74.17 
Cow 30 10.00 76.67 10.00 10.00 
Pig 30 10.00 10.00 73.33 6.67 
Sewage 30 6.67 6.67 6.67 73.33 

Values shown are means obtained from 100 iterations of the DAPC. N indicates the number of isolates from each host source. The percentages of isolates that were correctly assigned are in bold.

Library testing

To further assess its accuracy, the library was used in predicting the categories of a separate dataset consisting of composite BOX–GTG fingerprint profiles of E. coli from known sources. With the two-way categorical split, the library was able to correctly predict the isolates from agricultural and domestic sources with a classification rate of 67 and 64%, respectively (ARCC = 65.50%; Table 4). This accuracy decreased when using the four-way categorical split (ARCC = 29.17%; Table 5), with correct classification rates ranging from 13.33% (cow) to 53.33% (sewage).

Table 4

Source tracking of E. coli isolates from known sources (test dataset) using the two-way library constructed from BOX–GTG fingerprint profiles

Test datasetNRate of classification (%) of E. coli isolates in the assigned group
ARCC (%)
AgriculturalDomestic
Agricultural 100 67.00 33.00 65.50 
Domestic 100 36.00 64.00  
Test datasetNRate of classification (%) of E. coli isolates in the assigned group
ARCC (%)
AgriculturalDomestic
Agricultural 100 67.00 33.00 65.50 
Domestic 100 36.00 64.00  

N indicates the number of isolates from each host source. The percentages of isolates that were correctly assigned are in bold.

Table 5

Source tracking of E. coli isolates from known sources (test dataset) using the four-way library constructed from BOX–GTG fingerprint profiles

Test datasetNRate of classification (%) of E. coli isolates in the assigned group
ARCC (%)
ChickenCowPigSewage
Chicken 30 20.00 13.33 40.00 26.67 29.17 
Cow 30 20.00 13.33 36.67 30.00  
Pig 30 16.67 26.67 30.00 26.67  
Sewage 30 16.67 0.03 26.67 53.33  
Test datasetNRate of classification (%) of E. coli isolates in the assigned group
ARCC (%)
ChickenCowPigSewage
Chicken 30 20.00 13.33 40.00 26.67 29.17 
Cow 30 20.00 13.33 36.67 30.00  
Pig 30 16.67 26.67 30.00 26.67  
Sewage 30 16.67 0.03 26.67 53.33  

N indicates the number of isolates from each host source. The percentages of isolates that were correctly assigned are in bold.

DISCUSSION

In developing the culture library to source track fecal contamination in Laguna Lake, several factors were considered as suggested by Mott & Smith (2011). Firstly, E. coli was utilized as the microbial indicator since it is highly associated with the gut and feces of warm-blooded animals (Seurinck et al. 2003). Its presence also warns of the possible concurrent existence of other pathogenic microbes (Carson et al. 2003). This indicator has been utilized in many library-dependent MST, as reviewed by Mott & Smith (2011).

Secondly, the profiling method used here was rep-PCR. Discrimination of E. coli isolates based on the host origin using rep-PCR has been well documented (Dombek et al. 2000; Carson et al. 2003; McLellan et al. 2003; Seurinck et al. 2003; Mohapatra et al. 2007). This method has been utilized for source tracking fecal contamination in aquatic ecosystems such as beaches (Edge et al. 2010), natural ponds (Mohapatra et al. 2007), lakes (Kon et al. 2009), and watersheds (McLellan et al. 2003; Somarelli et al. 2007). The markers selected for assessment were BOX, GTG, and REP since these were reported to have the highest discriminatory power among the five rep-PCR methods commonly used for genotyping bacterial strains (Mohapatra et al. 2007; Mohapatra & Mazumder 2008). Among the three primers assessed in this study, our results show that REP performed poorly because of a low genotyping success rate and minimal information content. Similar observations were reported by Dombek et al. (2000) who generated REP fingerprint profiles that had a lower information content (25% fewer number of bands) compared to BOX and had isolates that were successful in generating fingerprint profiles with BOX but did not produce reliable fingerprints with REP.

Lastly, the statistical classification model employed was the DAPC developed by Jombart et al. (2010). In general, classification models are either unsupervised or supervised; the former requires no a priori grouping (e.g., cluster analysis and principal component analysis (PCA)), whereas the latter introduces the host source as a grouping variable (e.g., DA). No single approach has been shown to be superior to another (Scott et al. 2002; Graves et al. 2007; Stoeckel & Harwood 2007), and the appropriate statistical method depends on the nature of the library. Analyses performed on the dataset using two unsupervised classification methods, PCA and hierarchical clustering, revealed the absence of discrete clusters that could be useful for discriminating host sources (not shown). Given the binary nature of the data, the DA was also not usable since the correlation among variables was quite high. DAPC subjects the data to PCA to summarize the overall variability among individuals and then utilizes the PC scores for DA; this maximizes between-group variation while minimizing within-group variation, allowing for the best discrimination of samples to pre-defined groups. Although the classification model was originally developed for genetic data, it can be used with any dataset that is multivariate in nature (Jombart et al. 2010).

In terms of library performance, increasing library size improved the precision of estimates at the expense of accuracy. Although smaller libraries tend to have higher ARCCs, they suffer from lower representativeness which prevents the classification of isolates that are not in the library (Mott & Smith 2011). As much as possible, the library needs to consider all the isolates that are representative of a certain system for it to be effective in source tracking. Furthermore, the two-way performed better than the four-way categorical split. This is in concordance with previous reports showing that as the number of categorical splits increased, the accuracy decreased (Carson et al. 2003; Mohapatra et al. 2007). This is because a smaller number of categories leads to a greater probability that an isolate will be classified to its observed category by chance and that increasing the number of categories decreases this probability. For example, in a two-way split, a random classification will lead to 50% ARCC by chance, while for a four-way split, this becomes 25% (Mott & Smith 2011).

Testing the library using a separate dataset have shown its utility in actual source tracking. The two-way categorical split was able to identify the isolates correctly at a greater rate (ARCC = 65.50%) than that of the four-way categorical split (29.17%); this suggests that, in its current form, the library performs well only with the two-way split. However, we argue that the poor performance in the four-way split is a function of the number isolates representing each host source in the library. This underscores the importance of increasing the number of isolates per host source to further improve the library's accuracy.

Overall, fingerprint profiles generated by our isolates (Table 1) were different from other reports that used similar markers. Dombek et al. (2000) reported BOX and REP profiles containing 25–30 PCR bands on average with sizes ranging from less than 300 bp to about 4,500 bp. Carson et al. (2003) reported BOX profiles with 18–30 bands, while Seurinck et al. (2003) reported BOX profiles with 15–25 bands. McLellan et al. (2003) reported REP profiles with 13–22 bands ranging from 300 bp to 6 kb. This variability can be attributed to (1) the amplification protocol, (2) the host sources represented in the library, and (3) the spatiotemporal genetic variation of the indicator used. It was reported that the banding profile of rep-PCR differs with varying annealing temperatures (Korvin et al. 2014). In order to address such variability, we have performed an optimization where the annealing temperature was set to a gradient ranging from 47 to 57 °C; the median temperature of 52 °C was based on the protocol by Kheiri & Akhtari (2017) used in this study. The optimization was done for both BOX and GTG. Results showed that, despite the differences in the band intensity, consistent banding patterns from each representative host source isolate were recovered across the temperature gradient. This ruled out the possibility of banding pattern variation attributed to the amplification protocol. The spatiotemporal variability of profiles due to the genetic variation of the indicator is inherent to the MST-LDM (Ballesté et al. 2010; Mott & Smith 2011), thereby emphasizing the need to develop a library specific to the watershed of interest (McLellan et al. 2003).

Comparative studies of rep-PCR markers showed that different markers had different ARCC (Mohapatra et al. 2007; Mott & Smith 2011), while a composite analysis (i.e., combining band profiles among primers) improved overall discriminatory power (Yoke-Kqueen et al. 2013; Sukhumungoon et al. 2016), though that is not always the case (Dombek et al. 2000). Several papers also had different claims on which primer or primer combination generated the most reliable fingerprint data. Dombek et al. (2000) reported that BOX was considerably more accurate than REP in source tracking isolates from agricultural sources. Mohapatra et al. (2007) and Mohapatra & Mazumder (2008) reported GTG to have the greatest power in discriminating E. coli from various host sources (humans, poultry, and wild birds) as well as in differentiating populations from different aquatic environments. In concordance with our findings, Sukhumungoon et al. (2016) reported that either BOX or BOX–GTG combination was sufficient in identifying E. coli isolated from beef in southern Thailand. Variations in ARCC across different studies are to be expected since many factors affect library performance for the MST-LDM (Mott & Smith 2011).

CONCLUSION

We evaluated the discriminatory power of three rep-PCR markers on E. coli coming from various host sources that were identified to contribute fecal contamination in Laguna Lake. REP had a low genotyping success rate and information content and was thus dropped from the analyses. BOX had a higher discriminatory power than GTG; however, a combined profile from these markers had a higher ARCC. Our results indicate that BOX–GTG can be used as a rep-PCR marker in further developing the fingerprint library for MST in the lake. This future development includes increasing the number of isolates per host source as well as the inclusion of additional host sources when necessary. Since the most optimal primer combination has been selected, focus can now be given on assessing library representativeness, size, stability, and performance in identifying environmental isolates. It should be noted, however, that the LDM is not without limitations; MST should be performed using a toolbox approach; hence, there is a need to implement phenotypic fingerprinting methods (e.g., antibiotic resistance analysis) as well as LIMs.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

This study was funded by the Department of Science and Technology – Philippine Council for Industry, Energy, and Emerging Technology Research and Development (DOST-PCIEERD) and is in collaboration with the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA). We thank the staff from the LLDA, Maynilad, Manila Water, and Laguna Water for their assistance in obtaining the samples and for providing valuable insights on this research. In addition, we thank the assistance provided by Jeffrey Thomas Beldia, Sherwina Paiso, Laurice Beatrice Raphaelle dela Peña, Nicole Bolo, Mark Raymond Vejano, and Jerro Paolo Lunas.

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