Effects of sediments on the survival of Escherichia coli in marine waters

C. P. Gerba, J. S. McLeod

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203 Scopus citations


Escherichia coli, a fecal coliform, was found to survive for longer periods of time in unsterile natural seawater when sediment material was present than in seawater alone, and at least on one occasion growth was observed to occur. This enteric bacterium was found to increase rapidly in number in autoclaved natural seawater and autoclaved sediment taken from areas receiving domestic wastes, even when the seawater had salinities as high as 34 g/kg. However, in autoclaved seawater, growth was always more gradual and never reached numbers as high as those observed when sediment was present. It was found that nutrients were easily eluted from the sediment after autoclaving or upon addition to artificial seawater, but little elution occurred during mixing of the sediments with unsterile natural seawater. The longer survival of E. coli in the sediment is attributed to the greater content of organic matter present in the sediment than the seawater. These laboratory results, in part, could explain why on a volume basis larger numbers of coliforms and fecal coliforms were found in estuarine sediments than the overlaying water at field sites.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)114-120
Number of pages7
JournalApplied and environmental microbiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1976

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Food Science
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
  • Ecology


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