Enterococci are indicator bacteria used to assess the risk of acquiring enteric disease from swimming in marine waters. Previous work identified beach sands as reservoirs of enterococci which can be transported from the sand to the sea, where they may instigate beach advisories. The present study establishes that naturally occurring enterococci can replicate in beach sands under environmentally relevant conditions. In unseeded, nonsterile microcosm experiments, it was shown that intermittent wetting of sands by seawater, like that which would occur at the high tide line, stimulates the transient replication of enterococci at rates of 0.20 to 0.63 per day (equivalent to doubling times of 1.1 to 3.5 days). Replication was not observed in control microcosms that were not subjected to wetting. Enterococci were enumerated using both culture-dependent (membrane filtration and mEI media) and culture-independent (quantitative PCR [QPCR], 23S rRNA gene based) techniques, which allowed tracking of both culturable and total enterococcus populations. Inhibition of QPCR and DNA extraction efficiencies were accounted for in the interpretation of the QPCR results. The results provide evidence that enterococci may not be an appropriate indicator of enteric disease risk at recreational beaches subject to nonpoint sources of pollution
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