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Professor works to find source of E. coli

January 31, 2001
Dr. John Kaneene sits at the desk where most of his thinking takes place Tuesday in the Veterinary Medical Center. Dr. Kaneene is working on a research project to determine which animals the E. coli bacteria found in the Red Cedar River is from —

Dr. John Kaneene is working with MSU and Ingham and Livingston counties to determine the source of E. coli in the Red Cedar River.

The professor of Epidemiology and Director of the Population Medicine Center, received a $270,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to find a cheaper and easier way to determine which animal or animals are polluting the river with E. coli bacteria.

“The most important question is what is the source of the contamination,” he said. “If we know the source we can control the contamination.”

Kaneene, along with professors at the University of Maryland and University of Washington, will do RNA ribotyping - the same technology that is used in finger printing - on E. coli samples to determine the source of the bacteria.

They also will test resistance of each E. coli sample to antibiotics as a second way to determine the source.

Kaneene will use the samples from different animals, including cattle, pigs, poultry, deer and humans to give him multiple sources of E. coli.

Kaneene’s project fits in with a $195,193 grant that the Livingston County Drain Commission received from the Clean Water Act.

During the next two years the money will be used by Livingston County, Ingham County and MSU to create a watershed management plan to clean up the Red Cedar River.

“There is a lot of focus on surface water,” said Bob Godbold, director of environmental health with the Ingham County Health Department.“People are pulling together. They really share in the importance of our environment.”

The group will survey the river’s watershed and report problems they see. The group also hopes to educate communities on the importance of keeping the rivers clean.

“We are trying to encourage people to value it and participate in their community,” Livingston County Drain Commissioner Brian Jonckheere said. “We have a lot of authority, but there is nothing we can do if the people in the watershed don’t value it. That is the whole emphasis of this program.”

MSU, Ingham and Livingston officials will also be working closely with Kaneene to help him collect the sources of E. coli.

“We will help him collect human fecal samples by getting them from septic tanks so he has all the E.coli samples he needs,” Godbold said.

After Kaneene has determined the animals from the fecal samples, he will collect water from many different sources and identify the E. coli from those sources.

Kaneene will conduct the RNA ribotyping and the antibiotic sensitivity profile on the samples.

“If we use the antibiotic profiling would it agree with the RNA Ribotyping, which is expensive and time consuming?” he said. “If it does then bingo we have a cost effective alternative.”

Megan McMahon, environmental quality analyst with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, said the project is very important to cleaning up the river.

“I think it is tremendous,” she said. “Obviously, one of the issues that has been in the news is about E. coli, but we don’t have a clear source to identify.

“Whatever comes out of his study we’ll be able to identify the sources of E. coli, or at least what the organism is.”

Scott Witter, chairman of the MSU Department of Resource Development, is also working hard to clean up the Red Cedar River.


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