Presence and persistence of wastewater pathogen Escherichia coli O157:H7 in hydroponic reactors of treatment wetland species

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Treatment wetlands (TWs) efficiently remove many pollutants including a several log order reduction of pathogens from influent to effluent; however, there is evidence to suggest that pathogen cells are sequestered in a subsurface wetland and may remain viable months after inoculation. Escherichia coli is a common pathogen in domestic and agricultural wastewater and the O157:H7 strain causes most environmental outbreaks in the United States. To assess attachment of E. coli to the TW rhizosphere, direct measurements of E. coli levels were taken. Experiments were performed in chemostats containing either Teflon nylon as an abiotic control or roots of Carex utriculata or Schoenoplectus acutus. Flow of simulated wastewater through the chemostat was set to maintain a 2 hour residence time. The influent was inoculated with E. coli O157:H7 containing DsRed fluorescent protein. Root samples were excised and analyzed via epifluorescent microscopy. E. coli O157:H7 was detected on the root surface at 2 hours after inoculation, and were visible as single cells. Microcolonies began forming at 24 hours post-inoculation and were detected for up to 1 week post-inoculation. Image analysis determined that the number of microcolonies with >100 cells increased 1 week post-inoculation, confirming that E. coli O157:H7 is capable of growth within biofilms surrounding wetland plant roots.

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