Collaborative Research: RAPID: Characterization of Microbial Community Structure and Fecal Contamination of Floodwaters Generated by Hurricane Harvey
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Floodwaters generated by hurricanes and other extreme weather events may contain dangerous levels of microbial pathogens, associated with sewage and human waste contamination, and toxins. To determine the source of fecal contamination of floodwater and the impact of this floodwater on receiving water quality, the investigators will collect water samples at stations surrounding an estuary between Houston and Galveston. Samples include those already drawn before and also immediately after Hurricane Harvey deluged Houston. Analysis of early samples shows that microbial contamination is present post storm. The investigators will apply quantitative modern molecular biology methods to determine the source of the microbes that contaminated these floodwaters and will continue sampling weekly until the microbial community, as assessed by the modern methods, returns to pre-storm conditions.Little is known about the risk associated with exposure by contact to floodwaters or the impact of these floodwaters on receiving water quality. Fecal indicator bacteria (FIB), used to assess contact risk for recreational waters, do not determine the source of microbial contamination and assessing the health of receiving waters remains challenging. Quantitative PCR and metagenomic analysis can help track the source of microbial contamination but few studies have conducted these analyses, particularly with pre-flood samples for comparison. Further, few studies have applied next-generation sequencing methods, which have the depth and coverage to identify microbes that reflect fecal contamination and the overall microbial community diversity and structure. This work will allow the determination of the source of fecal contamination of floodwaters generated in this event and could lead to an improved understanding of the health risks associated with exposure to floodwaters in future events and the impact of hurricanes on the health of coastal systems.