Incorporating Expert Judgments in Utility Evaluation of Bacteroidales qPCR Assays for Microbial Source Tracking in a Drinking Water Source
Journal article, 2015
Several assays for the detection of host-specific genetic markers of the order Bacteroidales have been developed and used for microbial source tracking (MST) in environmental waters. It is recognized that the source-sensitivity and source-specificity are unknown and variable when introducing these assays in new geographic regions, which reduces their reliability and use. A Bayesian approach was developed to incorporate expert judgments with regional assay sensitivity and specificity assessments in a utility evaluation of a human and a ruminant-specific qPCR assay for MST in a drinking water source. Water samples from Lake Radasjon were analyzed for E. coli, intestinal enterococci and somatic coliphages through cultivation and for human (BacH) and ruminant-specific (BacR) markers through qPCR assays. Expert judgments were collected regarding the probability of human and ruminant fecal contamination based on fecal indicator organism data and subjective information. Using Bayes formula, the conditional probability of a true human or ruminant fecal contamination given the presence of BacH or BacR was determined stochastically from expert judgments and regional qPCR assay performance, using Beta distributions to represent uncertainties. A web-based computational tool was developed for the procedure, which provides a measure of confidence to findings of host-specific markers and demonstrates the information value from these assays.