Research Topic

Microbial Source Tracking

About this Research Topic

Human and animal fecal pollution may affect inland and coastal waters with negative consequences for water supplies, recreational water uses and shellfish production. Fecal pollution of waters is a significant health risk and can lead to economic losses due to shellfish bed closures, bathing prohibitions and serious limitations on water resources. Fecal contamination in water is currently evaluated by the enumeration of traditional fecal indicator bacteria (FIB; i.e. Escherichia coli and intestinal enterococci) which are not indicating the fecal pollution source. In order to improve water quality, management and remediation plans need methods for identifying fecal pollution sources. A considerable number of methods for detecting fecal pollution sources have been developed in recent decades under the term Microbial Source Tracking (MST). In addition the discrimination of human or non-human fecal pollution sources in waters plays an important role in quantitative microbial risk assessment.

A large number of MST methods have been developed targeting bacteria, viruses, chemical compounds and eukaryotic cells. Many of them demonstrate an appropriate host specificity and sufficient sensitivity. Culture-dependent and culture-independent (mainly molecular) methods have been proposed. The former provides information on the viability of the indicators while the latter are considered more flexible, faster but often have higher detection limits. Recently, metagenomic and proteomic techniques have also been considered. They are promising alternatives if based on a well-focused methodical approach and a sufficiently high level of target nucleic acid or protein in the investigated samples.

The aim of this Research topic is therefore to provide an insight into the state of the art of MST and highlight the latest developments. Central issues are performance characteristics and quality control in MST, determination of environmental decay rates of MST markers, applicability of MST markers to particular samples and environments, prediction and modeling of MST data in the context of source apportionment and quantitative microbial risk assessment (QMRA). Last but not least the impact of metagenomics, bioinformatics, artificial intelligence and digitalization on the field of fecal source identification will be explored.

• Innovative and cutting-edge MST methods
• Use of metagenomics, bioinformatics and artificial intelligence
• Performance characteristics and quality control of MST methods (such as international cooperative studies, Round Robin test…)
• Environmental decay rates of MST markers
• MST prediction and modeling
• Case studies demonstrating water quality improvements based on the application of MST methods
• Integration of MST approaches in QMRA and water safety management

* Method and Performance manuscripts should provide mechanistic insights into the reasons for the development of a new method, and in which ways it differs from the existing ones;
* Case study manuscripts should be used to demonstrate a concept, answer a question, or address an hypothesis in order to have the outcome more readily generalized.

Cover image courtesy of Dr Blanch of University of Barcelona.


Keywords: Microbial Source Tracking, faecal pollution, water, microbiota, bacterial communities, molecular markers, indicators


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

Human and animal fecal pollution may affect inland and coastal waters with negative consequences for water supplies, recreational water uses and shellfish production. Fecal pollution of waters is a significant health risk and can lead to economic losses due to shellfish bed closures, bathing prohibitions and serious limitations on water resources. Fecal contamination in water is currently evaluated by the enumeration of traditional fecal indicator bacteria (FIB; i.e. Escherichia coli and intestinal enterococci) which are not indicating the fecal pollution source. In order to improve water quality, management and remediation plans need methods for identifying fecal pollution sources. A considerable number of methods for detecting fecal pollution sources have been developed in recent decades under the term Microbial Source Tracking (MST). In addition the discrimination of human or non-human fecal pollution sources in waters plays an important role in quantitative microbial risk assessment.

A large number of MST methods have been developed targeting bacteria, viruses, chemical compounds and eukaryotic cells. Many of them demonstrate an appropriate host specificity and sufficient sensitivity. Culture-dependent and culture-independent (mainly molecular) methods have been proposed. The former provides information on the viability of the indicators while the latter are considered more flexible, faster but often have higher detection limits. Recently, metagenomic and proteomic techniques have also been considered. They are promising alternatives if based on a well-focused methodical approach and a sufficiently high level of target nucleic acid or protein in the investigated samples.

The aim of this Research topic is therefore to provide an insight into the state of the art of MST and highlight the latest developments. Central issues are performance characteristics and quality control in MST, determination of environmental decay rates of MST markers, applicability of MST markers to particular samples and environments, prediction and modeling of MST data in the context of source apportionment and quantitative microbial risk assessment (QMRA). Last but not least the impact of metagenomics, bioinformatics, artificial intelligence and digitalization on the field of fecal source identification will be explored.

• Innovative and cutting-edge MST methods
• Use of metagenomics, bioinformatics and artificial intelligence
• Performance characteristics and quality control of MST methods (such as international cooperative studies, Round Robin test…)
• Environmental decay rates of MST markers
• MST prediction and modeling
• Case studies demonstrating water quality improvements based on the application of MST methods
• Integration of MST approaches in QMRA and water safety management

* Method and Performance manuscripts should provide mechanistic insights into the reasons for the development of a new method, and in which ways it differs from the existing ones;
* Case study manuscripts should be used to demonstrate a concept, answer a question, or address an hypothesis in order to have the outcome more readily generalized.

Cover image courtesy of Dr Blanch of University of Barcelona.


Keywords: Microbial Source Tracking, faecal pollution, water, microbiota, bacterial communities, molecular markers, indicators


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

30 September 2020 Abstract
31 January 2021 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

30 September 2020 Abstract
31 January 2021 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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