1) Microbial Source Tracking
The current focus of my research is Microbial Source Tracking (MST) of fecal contamination in environmental waters. MST attempts to determine whether fecal bacteria are being introduced through wildlife/domestic animal sources or human sources - such as leaking septic tanks, sewer overflows, or illegal discharges.
We have recently utilized qPCR protocols to detect host-specific sequences from Bacteroides and Lachnospiraceae, as well as mitochondrial DNA. The genus Bacteroides is a member of the Bacteroidacea family of gram negatives. They are strict anaerobes and found in large quantities in the intestines of animals and comprise roughly 25% of the total bacteria in feces from humans. The Lachnospiraceae are a family of anaerobic, spore-forming bacteria in the order Clostridiales. These bacteria are among the most abundant taxa in the rumen and the human gut microbiota. Unlike E. coli or Enteroccoccci, host-specific strains of Bacteroides and Lachnospiraceae exist. This can be attributed to their inability to proliferate outside of their hosts, resulting in a close relationship by which they evolve into species-specific strains.
Our lab is currently able to test water samples quantitatively for human-, dog-, bird-, and horse-specific DNA markers.
As a result, we have been able to provide MST services for local government agencies and private companies conducting water quality analyses. In the future, we intend on developing new animal-specific species tests.
2) SARS-CoV-2 Tracking
We would like to adapt our MST methods mentioned above to detect the presence of SARS-CoV-2, the causative agent of COVID-19, in wastewater. Wastewater monitoring for SARS-CoV-2 RNA has been shown effective to predict outbreaks of COVID-19 by 2-14 days. Monitoring efforts have been deployed at several university campuses and dorms throughout the U.S., and we would like to develop our own monitoring system for KSU.