Use of isotopically-tagged isolates of E. coli for tracking bacterial movement in karst environments

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Ashley Bandy1, Alan E Fryar1, Stephen A Macko2 and Kimberly Cook3, (1)University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY, United States, (2)Univ Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, United States, (3)USDA-ARS, Food Animal Environmental Systems Research Unit, Bowling Green, KY, United States
Because of limited filtration and turbulent flow, karst aquifers are more susceptible to microbial contamination than clastic aquifers. Assessment of microbial transport in groundwater is complicated by the need to identify tracers that have a low detection limit, have minimal background concentrations, behave like the organisms of interest, and are non-pathogenic. We are assessing transport of two non-pathogenic isolates of Escherichia coli (E. coli) compared to traditional groundwater tracers in epikarst above Cave Springs Cavern near Bowling Green, KY, and in a karst conduit that emerges at Royal Spring in Georgetown, KY. The E. coli isolate exhibiting higher attachment efficiency in saturated granular columns contains the iha gene, while the isolate exhibiting lower attachment efficiency contains the kps gene. For the field experiments, bacteria are being grown on media enriched in 13C or 15N. Isotopically-tagged bacteria will be injected with rhodamine WT as a solute tracer and fluorescent microspheres as an abiotic particulate tracer. We will monitor breakthrough of the tracers in the cave and at the spring; based on a previous field test, we anticipate that particulate tracers may be remobilized during subsequent storm events. E. coli will be quantified by molecular methods (qPCR) and dual isotope analysis. Preliminary findings suggest that these two methods may be complementary, with each method having detection limitations.