The goal of this study was to test hollow-fiber ultrafiltration as a method for concentrating in situ bacteria and viruses in groundwater samples. Water samples from nine wells tapping a shallow sandy aquifer in a densely populated village in Bangladesh were reduced in volume approximately 400-fold using ultrafiltration. Culture-based assays for total coliforms and Escherichia coli, as well as molecular-based assays for E. coli, Bacteroides, and adenovirus, were used as microbial markers before and after ultrafiltration to evaluate performance. Ultrafiltration increased the concentration of the microbial markers in 99% of cases. However, concentration factors (CF = post-filtration concentration/pre-filtration concentration) for each marker calculated from geometric means ranged from 52 to 1018 compared to the expected value of 400. The efficiency was difficult to quantify because concentrations of some of the markers, especially E. coli and total coliforms, in the well water (WW) collected before ultrafiltration varied by several orders of magnitude during the period of sampling. The potential influence of colloidal iron oxide precipitates in the groundwater was tested by adding EDTA to the pre-filtration water in half of the samples to prevent the formation of precipitates. The use of EDTA had no significant effect on the measurement of culturable or molecular markers across the 0.5 to 10 mg/L range of dissolved Fe2+ concentrations observed in the groundwater, indicating that colloidal iron did not hinder or enhance recovery or detection of the microbial markers. Ultrafiltration appears to be effective for concentrating microorganisms in environmental water samples, but additional research is needed to quantify losses during filtration.
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