Distribution of Escherichia coli, coliphages and enteric viruses in water, epilithic biofilms and sediments of an urban river in Germany

Martin Mackowiak*, Mats Leifels, Ibrahim Ahmed Hamza, Lars Jurzik, Jost Wingender

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal article (peer-reviewed)Journal article

52 Citations (Scopus)


Fecal contamination of surface water is commonly evaluated by quantification of bacterial or viral indicators such as Escherichia coli and coliphages, or by direct testing for pathogens such as enteric viruses. Retention of fecally derived organisms in biofilms and sediments is less frequently considered. In this study, we assessed the distribution of E. coli, somatic coliphages, and enteric viruses including human adenovirus (HAdV), enterovirus (EV), norovirus genogroup GII (NoV GII) and group A rotavirus (RoV) in an urban river environment in Germany. 24 samples each of water, epilithic biofilms and sediments were examined. E. coli and somatic coliphages were prevalent not only in the flowing water, but also in epilithic biofilms and sediments, where they were accumulated compared to the overlying water. During enhanced rainfall, E. coli and coliphage concentrations increased by approximately 2.5 and 1 log unit, respectively, in the flowing water, whereas concentrations did not change significantly in epilithic biofilms and sediments. The occurrence of human enteric viruses detected by qPCR was higher in water than in biofilms and sediments. 87.5% of all water samples were positive for HAdV. Enteric viruses found less frequently were EV, RoV and NoV GII in 20.8%, 16.7% and 8.3% of the water samples, respectively. In epilithic biofilms and sediments, HAdV was found in 54.2% and 50.0% of the samples, respectively, and EV was found in 4.2% of both biofilm and sediment samples. RoV and NoV GII were not detected in any of the biofilms and sediments. Overall, the prevalence of enteric viruses was in the order of HAdV > EV > RoV ≥ NoV GII. In conclusion, epilithic biofilms and sediments can be reservoirs for fecal indicators and enteric viruses and thus should be taken into consideration when assessing microbial pollution of surface water environments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)650-659
Number of pages10
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 01 Jun 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Biofilm
  • Coliphages
  • Enteric viruses
  • Fecal indicators
  • Sediment
  • Surface water
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Escherichia coli/isolation & purification
  • Enterovirus/isolation & purification
  • Coliphages/isolation & purification
  • Biofilms
  • Rivers/microbiology
  • Cities
  • Geologic Sediments/microbiology
  • Germany
  • Water Microbiology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pollution
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry


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