Water is truly the lifeblood of the planet and without access to clean fresh water, life would quickly begin to vanish from Earth. While access to clean drinking water is obviously important for humans, we also rely heavily on the world’s rivers, lakes and oceans to provide food. Without clean water, our ability to harvest fish and seafood would also be greatly affected.
All of this means that it is essential that humans continue to develop new and improved ways to both monitor and protect the planet’s precious water resources. In this sense, microbial source tracking is one of the first lines of defense in our fight for clean water. For this reason, here’s a quick rundown of some basic facts about microbial source tracking that you may not be aware of.
1- Microbial Source Tracking Keeps Our Water Systems Safe.
Microbial source tracking (MST) is one of the primary methods scientists use to monitor water quality. Having access to clean drinking water is a major priority as millions of people around the globe are at high risk of contracting various diseases due to contaminated drinking water. MST obviously plays a vastly important role in monitoring sources of drinking water. However, the method is also used in a variety of other ways.
Humans don’t just rely on water for drinking, but also for recreation and harvesting food. Unfortunately, despite the passage of the Clean Water Act, many of America’s waterways are still contaminated. In this way, MST is also used to monitor beach areas and lakes to ensure that they are free from biological contaminants and thus safe for swimming. Similarly, the method is also an invaluable tool in ensuring fish and seafood populations remain healthy in an environment free from contamination.
2- Bacteria and Microbes Can Help Identify the Source of Contamination.
Fecal pollution is by far the biggest source of water contamination and also that which poses the biggest health risk. The feces of humans, livestock and wild animals all contains a range of bacteria, microbes and other pathogens that could pose a direct threat to human and animal health. Microbial source tracking gives scientists a way to directly track the source of fecal contamination by examining the specific type of microbes that are present in the water.
Humans, animals and domesticated livestock all tend to have their own types of endemic microbes. This means that, by identifying which microbes are present in the water, it is usually possible to tell whether the source of contamination was caused by human, wildlife or livestock feces. Through identifying the type of contamination, it is then much easier to begin to search for and eventually pinpoint the specific source of the contamination, such as a wastewater treatment plant, stock yard, etc.
3- Human Contamination Poses the Biggest Health Threat.
Contaminated water always poses at least some health threat to humans and animals. For instance, water contaminated with animal feces could potentially carry E. coli, various strains of Salmonella and numerous other pathogens. However, it is water contaminated with human feces that poses the far greatest risk. The reason is fairly obvious, as human feces is generally much more likely to carry various human-specific pathogens, i.e. disease-causing microbes that are endemic to and only affect humans. This includes certain endemic strains of Salmonella and also the hepatitis-A virus amongst many others.
The fact that human contamination poses the biggest health risk means that it is imperative that we work to ensure our water sources are protected. While this definitely includes ensuring that our drinking water is free from fecal contamination, it also extends to recreational water sources as swimming in or simply coming into contact with fecal-contaminated water still can lead to infection quite easily.
Protecting the planet’s valuable water resources should be one of humanity’s biggest missions as without water we’re nothing. To this effect, microbial source tracking is definitely one of the best tools humans have at our disposal. Chemical pollution is definitely another serious problem that needs to be tackled and there is no doubt that chemical pesticides, fertilizers and other contaminants pose a major threat to the environment. However, it is still the potential pathogens found in biological contamination that pose the biggest threat to human health, which makes microbial source tracking incredibly important for humanity’s continued growth and development.