Can feces be tested for DNA

Rapid DNA test identifies sources of water pollution

Vienna - When bodies of water are polluted, time is of the essence: the more effectively the source of the pollution can be identified, the more effective the countermeasures. An Austrian research team has now developed a new rapid DNA test method with which agricultural water pollution from ruminant faeces can be detected quickly and cheaply. As the scientists report in "Scientific Reports", the procedure is as straightforward as a pregnancy test.

So far, one has been dependent on lengthy and expensive methods in which samples had to be taken and then sent to a laboratory, report the researchers led by Georg Reischer from the Technical University (TU) Vienna. The new approach that the TU researchers developed together with colleagues from the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (Boku) is not based on the overall analysis of the DNA in the water.

Tell-tale gut bacteria

"Certain bacteria are only found in the feces of very specific animal species. If you examine samples for DNA sections of these bacteria, you can therefore tell exactly from which organism the contamination originates," says Reischer. The new test specifically searches for sections of the genome of typical intestinal inhabitants of ruminants, which can accordingly also be found in their legacies.

The method can also be used in other contexts, said Reischer: "Basically, this technology can be applied to a wide variety of bacteria and viruses, but we are currently concentrating on the detection of dangerous germs in water, because this is a particularly widespread problem."

Over several years of work, the researchers developed their method that can also be used by people without biotechnological expertise. Similar to a pregnancy test, a simple test strip can be used to prove it. After the upcoming development of a measuring device prototype, for which the team is still looking for an industrial partner, the scientists want to offer the device for a few hundred euros. (red, APA, February 4, 2019)