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qPCR Used to Develop Rapid Response Strategies for Contaminated Beaches

The Southern California Coastal Water Research Project (SCCWRP) has been working with academic and industry researchers since the late 1990s to evaluate and refine rapid microbiological methods for beach water quality analysis. Application of rapid methods would improve public health protection by providing more accurate and timely information on which to base beach warning and closure decisions. Implementation of rapid methods has also been mandated by the Federal BEACH Act and California AB 639. Currently, research shows that quantitative polymerase chain reaction (QPCR) is the most viable rapid method for application to beach monitoring.

In order to advance the application of rapid methods, the SCCWRP Commission created a Rapid Methods Task Force in 2009, consisting of experts representing multiple stakeholders. After reviewing the available science, the Task Force initiated a pilot project in summer 2010 that will explore the efficacy of using rapid methods for issuing beach warnings and closures in southern California. The goal of this project is to assist the Task Force by conducting training and outreach to enable a pilot project where QPCR is used in parallel with traditional methods for monitoring at selected southern California beaches. The objective is to produce rapid test results that can be utilized for making beach warning decisions and posting signs (if necessary) on the same day a sample is taken.

A rapid method dry-run in which methods are transferred to local laboratories was implemented in May and June, which will be followed by a demonstration project in July and August (if warranted). Throughout the pilot, all samples will be processed by both rapid and traditional methods. The Task Force’s chosen method is QPCR with Scorpion primers and probes, using a BioRad thermocycler and no DNA purification step.

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