TAMPA, FLa. - The Florida Department of Environmental Protection recently created a new molecular biology lab to test fecal pollutants in water in a way that traces the bacteria to the source animal of origin.
USF Microbiology Professor Valerie J. Harwood knows the tests well. She spent 15 years working on research that laid a foundation for their development.
"If you can trace the contamination, you can do something to stop it," she said.
For the last 50 years, scientists have been able to test for bacteria in water, but not where it came from. The old tests also took at least a day to return results, during which beach-goers swam in contaminated water.
The tests Harwood helped created do exactly that. By genetically tracking the bacteria, they can trace it back to the feces of birds, pigs, cattle, dogs, and humans.
"In this way, the DEP will be able to determine whether a water body is being impaired by human wastewater, agricultural waste, or wildlife," wrote DEP Environmental Administrator David Whiting.
That way, they can figure out how to better eradicate the problem more quickly.
"This is our backyard," said Tampa Public Works Director Irvin Lee.
"We all have a stake in this."