Oct 20, 2016

A Recipe for Bourbon Gumbo

new orleans, bourbon street, gumbo, water testing, dna analysis

If you've ever been to the French Quarter in New Orleans, then you know the smell - the aroma of stale beer, vomit and fried food that permeates Bourbon Street and the surrounding lanes. The smell is enhanced, no doubt, by the tepid, grey puddles of water that seems to be everywhere in the Bourbon Street area. 

Like me, you probably try to ignore the smell, avoid the puddles, and just try to enjoy the many great things about New Orleans (beignets, anyone?). But after spending some time on Bourbon Street during WEFTEC 2016 in September, there was one question the team behind Microbe Detectives just couldn't avoid: What is actually in those puddles?

Known by locals as Bourbon gumbo - Microbe Detectives CEO John Tillotson said he learned the term from an Uber driver during the trip - the puddles are ever-present, possibly due to ineffective drainage on the centuries-old streets. Tillotson and his team took a sample of the standing water at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 28, the last day of WEFTEC.

"We were told that the street is cleaned nightly, therefore we assumed the water may not be exotic as one might think. Maybe just a mishmash of bacteria consuming soap residue," Microbe Detectives' latest blog reports. "Turns out, it was a bit more interesting than that."

Microbe Detectives uses DNA analysis to identify microorganisms in all types of water supplies, and it applied this technology to the Bourbon gumbo. The results of the testing: lots of bacteria. According to the blog, "Though no obvious pathogenic genera were detected, 32% of identified bacteria was dominated by fecal-associated bacteria, especially PrevotellaBacteroides and many others. Most of these bacteria live in mammal intestines, including the human gut. However, Prevotella is generally not that abundant in the human gut in the Western Hemisphere ..."

Prevotella is common in some large mammals, such as horses - thus, much of the bacterial contamination is likely a result of manure from the horses that regularly traverse the streets of the French Quarter.

According to Tillotson, the Bourbon gumbo testing has piqued Microbe Detectives' interest - what could be lurking in water across the U.S.? WQP is curious too, and we're hoping to hear from you. Have you ever wondering what microorganisms are in your gutter? A local pond? Maybe your own water well? Let us know what water source you are curious about, and Microbe Detectives may choose to test it. Email us at wqpeditor@sgcmail.com to let us know, and stayed tuned to future blogs for more unique water testing applications.