Pollution of water by sewage and run-off from farms produces a serious public health problem in many countries. Viruses, along with bacteria and protozoa in the intestine or in urine are shed and transported through the sewer system. Even in highly industrialized countries, pathogens, including viruses, are prevalent throughout the environment. Molecular methods are used to monitor viral, bacterial, and protozoan pathogens, and to track pathogen- and source-specific markers in the environment. Molecular techniques, specifically polymerase chain reaction-based methods, provide sensitive, rapid, and quantitative analytical tools with which to study such pathogens, including new or emerging strains. These techniques are used to evaluate the microbiological quality of food and water, and to assess the efficiency of virus removal in drinking and wastewater treatment plants. The range of methods available for the application of molecular techniques has increased, and the costs involved have fallen. These developments have allowed the potential standardization and automation of certain techniques. In some cases they facilitate the identification, genotyping, enumeration, viability assessment, and source-tracking of human and animal contamination. Additionally, recent improvements in detection technologies have allowed the simultaneous detection of multiple targets in a single assay. However, the molecular techniques available today and those under development require further refinement in order to be standardized and applicable to a diversity of matrices. Water disinfection treatments may have an effect on the viability of pathogens and the numbers obtained by molecular techniques may overestimate the quantification of infectious microorganisms. The pros and cons of molecular techniques for the detection and quantification of pathogens in water are discussed. © 2010 Elsevier Ltd.
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