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Application of Molecular Methods to Investigate the Levels of Fecal Contamination on South Florida Beaches

Grant Winners

  • Cristina Gwaltney, M.S. – University School
  • Andrew Rogerson, Ph.D. – Oceanographic Center/Farquhar College of Arts and Sciences
  • D. Esiobu, Ph.D. – Florida Atlantic University
  • M. Samadpour, Ph.D. – University of Washington


  • Jerome Chermak – University School
  • Richard Dodge – Oceanographic Center
  • Norma Goonen – Farquhar College of Arts and Sciences


There is growing concern that traditional indicator organisms (a group of microbes currently used to gauge levels of fecal contamination) may be inappropriate for Florida's sub-tropical waters. Moreover, regulatory agencies traditionally determine the hygienic quality of recreational beaches through monitoring the water; there has been no consideration for public health risk due to contact with sand. Both of these shortcomings are currently being addressed by in an EPA funded study to assess levels of fecal contamination at south Florida's beaches (AR, principal investigator). Results from this study have shown that sand accumulates high numbers of fecal indicator organisms, much higher than the water. The question now becomes - are there correspondingly high numbers of fecal pathogens? If so, then exposure to sand may pose an increased health risk to beach users, especially children. The alternative scenario is that fecal indicators are surviving and growing in sand and giving a false impression of health risk due to fecal pollution.

Because of a recent contact with Dr. Samadpour of the University of Washington and Molecular Epidemiology Inc., we now have the opportunity to employ molecular methods to analyze beach sand for specific sewage-derived pathogens. This would take the beach research along a new direction and address the issue of why there are so many fecal indicators are present in sand. Since the techniques to be utilized are relatively straightforward, there is an opportunity to partner with the University School and train several (5 per year) advanced placement students from the School in molecular biological techniques. The students will benefit by being involved in an exciting, ongoing research program and the project benefits by additional laboratory help. At the University School, the students would be mentored by Ms. T. Gwaltney . At the OC they would be supervised and trained by Dr. Rogerson.

This proposal asks for equipment and consumable money to make this cooperative research and educational activity a reality. Although initially for one-year, the infrastructure would be in place to allow high school students to be trained in molecular methods indefinitely.

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