Victoria Frost, Ph.D.


Matthew Heard, Ph.D.


College of Arts and Sciences




Escherichia coli (E. coli) is a common bacterial species that can persist in many environments found around the world. One environment where it can be found that is of particular concern is an oceanic beach, where it can serve as an indicator of both fecal and microbial pollution. While the majority of strains of E. coli are non-pathogenic to humans, some phylo-groups are associated with virulent strains and could cause disease. Therefore, it is of critical concern that we determine where this E. coli is coming from and whether it is potentially harmful to human health and well-being. In this study, we attempted to answer this question by using a newly developed molecular technique, which allows us to identify which phylo-groups environmental isolates of E. coli belong to. Classification into phylo-groups can help infer the source of the pollution. For this analysis, we collected sand samples from Folly Beach, SC, which is one of the most visited beaches in the Southeastern US. In our analysis, we identified environmental isolates of E. coli that differ from the lab strain and belong to two distinct phylo-groups including phylo-group A, which is likely from human fecal contamination and phylo-group B1, which is likely from a domesticated and/or wild animal source. The same molecular technique was altered to test for virulence factors of E. coli, and all isolates showed a band corresponding to a virulence factor, but further analysis is needed to determine the validity of this technique. Collectively, our findings indicate that multiple types of E. coli are able to persist in these environments and that more research is needed to determine whether these strains are of public health concern.

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