Scientists study DNA to find pollution source in Great Lakes

Aug 26, 2016

Each summer, bacteria can force beaches on the Great Lakes to close. Now researchers are battling the bacteria with a genetic-based process.

The technique, called Next Generation Sequencing, involves looking at bacteria at the molecular level. Samples of the bacteria's DNA are collected from the water, and are examined to help with identifying the source of he problem.

Researchers at the Buffalo State Great Lakes Center will be using the technology in Lake Erie. They'll collect samples near an area that has been plagued by bacteria: Gallagher Beach on Buffalo's Outer Harbor.

The accumulation of bacteria can sicken people and pets. And it has triggered restrictions at Gallagher Beach.

Gallagher Beach on Lake Erie
Credit Angelica Morrison

Right now, it's unknown if the technique is used by other communities in the Great Lakes region, but researchers at the center say the process has been around for four or five years.

"There's an emphasis on water quality throughout the Great Lakes basin and ... we are involved in a lot of water quality testing and issues and so on as part of a larger scheme for Buffalo State," said Gary Pettibone, one of the key researchers on the project.

He says they will take samples from several sites along the Gallagher Beach area, to determine the bacteria's source. The project will take about a year to complete.

Some suspected sources of the bacteria: a storm drain and a seagull nesting colony.