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A Microbe Detectives’ Classic DNA Study

For those who missed the opportunity to get a good laugh and learn something about DNA sequencing, this is worth a read, reposted from the originals. Apparently this fella swimming in Bourbon Gumbo did not get the memo.

What’s Living in “Bourbon Gumbo” Street Water?

Have you ever been to Bourbon Street in New Orleans? Microbe Detectives got back from a great week at WEFTEC in New Orleans. We really enjoyed the culture, amazing food and great music, and it was a very successful business trip. However, we spent several nights on Bourbon Street (UGH!).

We just could not resist finding out what kind of microbes might be living in the street gutter water (known as Bourbon Gumbo). So we decided to grab a sample and sequence the DNA of it’s microbiome.

Where does the term “Bourbon Gumbo” come from? – from our Uber driver. We told him we wanted to analyze the microbiology of one of the water puddles on Bourbon Street, and he told us “that’s known as Bourbon Gumbo.” He said “that’s some really nasty stuff,” and started an out of control laughter. We asked a graduate student in environmental engineering at the University of Illinois (whom we met on the plane ride home) what she thought was in “Bourbon Gumbo.” She said, “I’m not sure but it was definitely bubbling and probably contains anything gross that can come out of the human body.” She also thought it was funny, nasty and interesting that we are going to sequence the DNA of the microbes.

Now our “Bourbon Gumbo” was sampled on Thursday September 28 at 1pm. We have been told that the streets are cleaned and hosed down early every morning. So maybe we will not find what might be found later in the night, but we are not sure.

Street Water Findings: #2 was #1

DNA Analysis Report

Turns out, it was a bit more interesting than that.

The water was analyzed using DNA sequencing to identify the bacteria present. The high abundance of the Firmicutes Phylum is unusual for clean surface water and indicates potential fecal contamination. Though no obvious pathogenic genera were detected, 32% of identified bacteria was dominated by fecal-associated bacteria, especially Prevotella, Bacteroides and many others. Most of these bacteria live in mammal intestines including the human gut. However, Prevotellais generally not that abundant in the human gut in the Western Hemisphere (though it is quite common in some developing countries with diets lower in fat and protein).

As a result, it seems that the presence of these fecal bacteria is likely predominantly due to manure from a large mammal. Several of the bacteria are associated with ruminate mammals. Since Bourbon Street hosts many celebrations and parades, it’s likely we’re seeing the aftermath of some horse manure festering in the puddles on the street.


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