Researchers to Discuss DNA Methods for Monitoring Beach Water Quality

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Date: June 1, 2016

Historically, water quality monitoring programs have relied on traditional techniques, such as culturing microorganisms (e.g., E. coli, enterococci) in the laboratory, to evaluate if beaches are safe for swimming, surfing, and other water-exposure recreational activities. However, the significant time-lapse between sample collection and results, typically 18 hours or longer, can result in inaccurate management decisions due to rapidly changing water quality conditions. This results in either unnecessary beach closures or beaches open to swimming when the water quality is actually poor. Recent advancements in DNA-based technology are increasingly becoming indispensable tools in environmental applications, including water quality monitoring. With these techniques, water quality results are achievable on the same day of sampling, within hours of sample collection. 

To outline these new methods, Dr. Murulee Byappanahalli (U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Great Lakes Science Center) and Christopher Otto (National Park Service (NPS)) will present a program entitled “Advancing Monitoring Programs at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (National Lakeshore) Using DNA Technology” on June 9 at 9:30 a.m. at the Philip A. Hart Visitor Center Auditorium in Empire, Michigan. 

The USGS Great Lakes Science Center, in collaboration with the National Lakeshore, evaluated the usefulness of a quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR, a DNA-based rapid technique) as an alternate method for monitoring water quality of the park’s beaches (Esch Road, Platte Point Bay) and their associated rivers in 2014. Using enterococci bacteria as an indicator, bacterial numbers obtained from the traditional culturing method were generally similar to those obtained by qPCR. Importantly, qPCR results would result in fewer beach advisories. In summary, qPCR is a viable, alternative to traditional culturing method for monitoring water quality of the National Lakeshore’s beaches. In addition to beach monitoring, this DNA technology has the potential to expand the park’s current research and monitoring programs, such as those focused on avian botulism and invasive species threatening the Great Lakes.   

Dr. Murulee Byappanahalli is a Research Microbiologist with the USGS Great Lakes Science Center. He received his MS and Ph. D. degrees in Microbiology from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, with a specialty in environmental microbiology. He is the team leader for microbiology program in his research group and uses classical microbiological and novel molecular techniques to tackle complex environmental problems. Dr. Byappanahalli’s research interests include examining new approaches to identification of microbial pollutants and their sources to restore habitats, understanding the microbial community assemblages and associated food web interactions in aquatic habitats across factors related to urbanization and environmental perturbation, and elucidating the microbial role in the establishment and spread of invasive plant species. He has published extensively on the ecology of indicator bacteria in natural environments and his research was among the first to document the natural occurrence of these bacteria in nonenteric habitats. He is a member of the American Society for Microbiology and the Soil Science Society of America. 

Chris Otto started working for the NPS at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in 2008. He received his bachelor's degree from the Eli Broad College of Business at Michigan State University (MSU) in 2002. Chris completed his Master of Science in Natural Resource Management in 2009, also from MSU. Prior to arriving at the park, Chris worked as a research associate for the Institute of Water Research at MSU teaching a series of courses in watershed management. At the park, Chris oversees a growing water resources program that includes water quality monitoring at park beaches, an inland lake water quality monitoring program, and a developing aquatic invasive species monitoring program. He also represents the park on several local and regional watershed management initiatives.

This talk is part of a National Lakeshore speaker series called “Research Rendezvous.” To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the NPS and highlight the value of national parks as our nation’s “living laboratories,” the National Lakeshore is hosting a series of public talks by park researchers in 2016. All Research Rendezvous presentations offered at the National Lakeshore are free. Upcoming “Research Rendezvous” presentations include:

“The Evolution of Slavery in Ants” by Dr. Susanne Foitzik (Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Germany) on Tuesday, June 14, 2016 at 9:30 a.m. 

“Ecological Impacts of Baby's Breath (Gypsophila paniculata) Invasion and Management in Sand Dunes” by Matthew Reid (University of Louisville) on Thursday, July 14 at 9:30 a.m.

“Volunteers for Science: A Panel Discussion with Citizen Scientists at Sleeping Bear Dunes” by park volunteers Marty Litherland, Carol Linteau, Mary Ellen Newport, John Ester, Char Ester, Kevin Kinnan, Kim Kinnan, and Bill Stott on Thursday, August 11 at 10:00 a.m.

“Otter Creek Brook Trout Restoration” by Brett Fessel (Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians) on Thursday, September 8 at 9:30 a.m.

Talks are scheduled once or twice a month throughout 2016, with more being added frequently. Please check our calendar for the current schedule of upcoming talks. 

Last updated: June 2, 2016

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