Opportunities and limitations of molecular methods for quantifying microbial compliance parameters in EU bathing waters

David M. Oliver*, Melanie van Niekerk, David Kay, A. Louise Heathwaite, Jonathan Porter, Lora E. Fleming, Julie L. Kinzelman, Elaine Connolly, Andy Cummins, Calum McPhail, Amanna Rahman, Ted Thairs, Ana Maria de Roda Husman, Nick D. Hanley, Ian Dunhill, Lidija Globevnik, Valerie J. Harwood, Chris J. Hodgson, David N. Lees, Gordon L. NicholsAndreas Nocker, Ciska Schets, Richard S. Quilliam

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


The debate over the suitability of molecular biological methods for the enumeration of regulatory microbial parameters (e.g. Faecal Indicator Organisms [FIOs]) in bathing waters versus the use of traditional culture-based methods is of current interest to regulators and the science community. Culture-based methods require a 24-48. hour turn-around time from receipt at the laboratory to reporting, whilst quantitative molecular tools provide a more rapid assay (approximately 2-3. h). Traditional culturing methods are therefore often viewed as slow and 'out-dated', although they still deliver an internationally 'accepted' evidence-base. In contrast, molecular tools have the potential for rapid analysis and their operational utility and associated limitations and uncertainties should be assessed in light of their use for regulatory monitoring. Here we report on the recommendations from a series of international workshops, chaired by a UK Working Group (WG) comprised of scientists, regulators, policy makers and other stakeholders, which explored and interrogated both molecular (principally quantitative polymerase chain reaction [qPCR]) and culture-based tools for FIO monitoring under the European Bathing Water Directive. Through detailed analysis of policy implications, regulatory barriers, stakeholder engagement, and the needs of the end-user, the WG identified a series of key concerns that require critical appraisal before a potential shift from culture-based approaches to the employment of molecular biological methods for bathing water regulation could be justified.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)124-128
Number of pages5
JournalEnvironment International
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The Working Group and associated workshop series were funded by the Natural Environment Research Council as part of the Delivering Healthy Water project ( NE/I022191/1 ). LF received funding in part from the European Regional Development Fund Programme and the European Social Fund Convergence Programme for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly . The authors acknowledge the valuable contributions made by Tim Wade at the workshops in London and the constructive comments of the anonymous referees.


  • EU Bathing Water Directive
  • Epidemiology
  • Faecal indicator organism
  • Microbial pollution
  • QPCR
  • Recreational water


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