Water pollution is an inevitable consequence of urbanisation and industrialisation. Population increases and the development of associated infrastructure are inadvertently overburdening water resources. Predominate factors in the degradation of general water quality include sewage overflow, industrial waste, agricultural run-off and climate change. As a result polluted water ways can harbour an array of pathogenic organisms and present a serious public health risk. Historically water quality was analysed using culture based methods targeting faecal indicator bacteria such as Escherichia coli; since almost all disease outbreaks have been the consequence of faecally derived pathogens. However numerous limitations exist with traditional techniques, including the inability to identify the faecal sources and where they are entering the effected water system. Recent advances in molecular technologies coupled with the lack of information provided by the enumeration of indicator organisms only, has seen a shift in research and industry interest in the pursuit of better characterising the true microbial loading of a water body. However to date there is no ‘gold standard’ method(s). In view of this; the overall objective of this thesis was to investigate the characteristics of commonly utilised indicator organisms with the idea of pursuing novel approaches and methods for evaluating the microbial loading of various water bodies and types, and discriminating between animal and human sources.
Submitted in the fulfilment of the requirements of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, University of the Sunshine Coast, 2014.
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