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Current pathogen detection techniques used by the water industry are generally culture-based methods for indicators of faecal contamination which are indirect and can take several hours to days to analyse. This review considers the feasibility of moving beyond such culture-based techniques for water quality monitoring to culture independent and more direct methods of detection. A range of potential culture independent whole cell detection techniques were compared with culture based techniques. A decrease in processing time using the culture independent techniques was positively correlated with an increase in cost, specificity and level of expertise required. More advanced culture independent molecular detection methods were also reviewed and found to be specific, sensitive, information rich, high throughput, and potentially quantitative. However, they require highly specialised equipment and labour, have variable processing time and costs, and are largely laboratory-bound as they were developed for research rather than routine detection.

Hence, whilst a wealth of biological detection tools and technologies are developing fast, these are predominately laboratory based, and are still reliant on discrete sampling. Therefore huge technological challenges still exist. Potential use and uptake within the water industry is also based on managerial challenges in deciding the balance between the quality and quantity of information needed, time and complexity of analysis, and overall costs.

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