Antonie van Leeuwenhoek

, Volume 88, Issue 1, pp 35-48

First online:

Inactivation of Escherichia coli and coliform bacteria in traditional brass and earthernware water storage vessels

  • Puja TandonAffiliated withDivision of Biomedical Sciences, Northumbria University
  • , Sanjay ChhibberAffiliated withDepartment of Microbiology, Panjab University
  • , H. Robert ReedAffiliated withDivision of Biomedical Sciences, Northumbria University Email author 

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The detection and enumeration of indicator bacteria such as Escherichia coli is used to assess the extent of faecal contamination of drinking water. On the basis of this approach, the effectiveness of storing water contaminated with faecal indicator bacteria in brass or earthern vessels (mutkas) of the type used in rural India have been investigated. Suspensions of bacteria in sterile distilled water were maintained for up to 48 h in each vessel and enumerated by surface plate counts on nutrient agar (non-selective) and several selective coliform media at 37 °C either under standard aerobic conditions, or under conditions designed to neutralise reactive oxygen species (ROS), e.g. using an anaerobic cabinet to prepare plates of pre-reduced growth medium or by inclusion of sodium pyruvate in the growth medium, with incubation of aerobically-prepared plates in an anaerobic jar. The counts obtained for E. coli decreased on short-term storage in a brass mutka; counts for selective media were lower than for equivalent counts for non-selective medium, with ROS-neutralised conditions giving consistently higher counts than aerobic incubation. However, after 48 h, no bacteria were cultivable under any conditions. Similar results were obtained using water from environmental sources in the Panjab, and from rural households where brass and earthern mutkas are used for storage of drinking water, with enumeration on selective coliform media (presumptive total coliforms). In all cases results indicated that, while storage of water in a brass mutka can inactivate E. coli and coliforms over a 48 h period, standard aerobic plate counting using selective media may not be fully effective in enumerating sub-lethally damaged bacteria.


Heavy metals Reactive oxygen species (ROS) Selective media Sub-lethal stress