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Monitoring the microbiological quality of drinking water relies largely on examination of indicator bacteria such as coliforms, Escherichia coli, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. E. coli is a member of the faecal coliform group and is a more specific indicator of faecal pollution than other faecal coliforms. Two key factors have led to the trend toward the use of E. coli as the preferred indicator for the detection of faecal contamination, not only in drinking water, but also in other matrices as well: first, the finding that some faecal coliforms were non faecal in origin, and second, the development of improved testing methods for E. coli. The faecal coliform definition has also been revised to coincide better with the genetic make-up of its members and now includes newly identified environmental species. As a result, faecal coliforms are increasingly being referred to as thermotolerant coliforms. This, combined with improved detection methods for E. coli, has started a trend toward the use of E. coli in place of thermotolerant coliforms as a more reliable indicator of faecal pollution in drinking water. At present, E. coli appears to provide the best bacterial indication of faecal contamination in drinking water. This is based on the prevalence of thermotolerant (faecal) coliforms in temperate environments as compared to the rare incidence of E. coli, the prevalence of E. coli in human and animal faeces as compared to other thermotolerant coliforms, and the availability of affordable, fast, sensitive, specific and easier to perform detection methods for E. coli.
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