Researchers say a project on the Upper Iowa River in northeast Iowa to study and track a type of bacteria that’s commonly associated with pollution is showing success. Eric O’Brien is a researcher biologist with the state geological survey who has been trying and track the source of the e-coli bacteria using its D.N.A. He says the main goal was to put in the D-N-A and see if they could determine if the e-coli came from a human or cattle source. He says that test did work. O’Brien says the initial portion of the project focused on the Upper Iowa watersheds around Cresco, Decorah and Waukon. He says the next stage of the project is to do testing a Lake Darling in southeast Iowa. He says they’ll hopefully have the same success in identifying the difference between human and cattle e-coli in the lake. He says then they hope to be able to compare the river results with the results found in the lake to see if there’s some of the same D-N-A. O’Brien says finding a link between the river and lake would be a big step.He says if that holds up, then they’ll be able to quickly build a library of D-N-A fingerprints, which he says will help out in other projects across the state in determining what’s in the water. D-N-A is used in crime cases to locate a suspect out of thousands of people, but O’Brien says this research likely won’t let them single out individual cattle lots as the cause of pollution. He says he doubts it will ever get to that point. He says they’ll be happy if they can get to the point where they identify e-coli linked to cattle 95-percent of the time. O’Brien says they starting slow because of the cost. He says it is quite expensive to do the testing, that’s why they’re focusing on the small areas to show the testing is a viable system. The study is a joint project of the Department of Natural Resource, Iowa Geological Survey, the University of Iowa Hygienic Laboratory and the Upper Iowa River Watershed Alliance. Funding for the project was provided by The University of Iowa Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research.
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