James River - Public health microbiology

Bacterial contamination of surface waters creates significant public health hazards, especially in urbanized areas where microorganisms are introduced into surface waters via precipitation runoff, combined sewage overflows (CSOs), sanitary sewage overflows (SSOs), and treated wastewater. The risks of illness from contact with surface water are usually determined by estimated concentrations of coliform bacteria by growing them in culture. These culture-based methods are becoming increasingly questionable as molecular biology techniques advance to allow faster, accurate, identification of pathogens without biases associated with cell cultures. Our research in this area involves detailed temporal and spatial study of bacterial indicators of wastewater pollution in the nearby James River. In addition to studying bacterial pathogen loads, we also consider the environmental and anthropogenic drivers of antibiotic resistant bacteria and of harmful algal blooms like those caused by Microcystis.