Specific gene probe detection methods that utilise a non-selective culturing step were tested for the ability to recognise the presence of quiescent enteric bacteria (Escherichia coli and Enterococcus faecalis ) within illuminated freshwater and seawater microcosms. An E. coli specific uidA gene probe and a 23S rRNA oligonucleotide probe for Enterococci were compared with recoveries using membrane filtration and incubation on selective media (mTEC and mE respectively). From these microcosm experiments a greater initial detection (from 4 hours to 1 day) of E. coli and Ent. faecalis using gene probe methods was observed. Additionally, a comparison of E. coli direct viable counts (DVC) in sunlight exposed microcosms with recoveries by selective media and gene probe methods revealed a large number of viable non-culturable cells. This suggests that enumeration of E. coli by a gene probe method is limited by the replication of the bacteria during the initial non-selective enrichment step. The detection of stressed Ent. faecalis by the oligonucleotide gene probe method was significantly greater than recovery on selective mE agar, indicating an Enterococci non-growth phase.

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