Use of sterol and bile acid biomarkers to identify domesticated animal sources of fecal pollution

Punam Tyagi, Dwayne R. Edwards, Mark S. Coyne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


The objective of this study was to demonstrate the use of chemical biomarkers (fecal sterols and bile acids) to identify selected sources of fecal pollution in the environment. Fecal sterols and bile acids were determined for pig, horse, cow, and chicken feces. Ten to twenty-six fresh fecal samples were collected for each animal, and the concentrations of fecal sterols (coprostanol, epicoprostanol, cholesterol, cholestanol, stigmastanol, and stigmasterol) and bile acids (lithocholic acid, deoxycholic acid, cholic acid, chenodeoxycholic acid, ursodeoxycholic acid, hyodeoxycholic acid) were determined using a gas chromatography and mass spectrometer (GC-MS) technique. Correlation study was performed among sterol and bile acid variables for selected animals, and a ratio (cholesterol + epicoprostanol)/(deoxycholic acid + chenodeoxycholic acid + hyodeoxycholic acid) has been proposed as an indicator for assessing fecal input. The levels of (cholesterol + epicoprostanol)/(deoxycholic acid + chenodeoxycholic acid + hyodeoxycholic acid) in horse, cow, chicken and pig were observed 3.258±1.191, 1.921±1.006, 1.013±0.726, and 0.205±0.119 respectively and the ratio of horse: cow: chicken: pig was 16: 9: 5: 1. This ratio suggests the potential of sterol and bile acid biomarkers in identifying sources and occurrence of fecal matter. While additional work using polluted water (as opposed to fresh fecal samples) as well as multiple pollution sources are needed to investigate the transport of these biomarkers into water bodies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)263-274
Number of pages12
JournalWater, Air, and Soil Pollution
Issue number1-4
StatePublished - Jan 2008

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements We acknowledge the Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station, University of Kentucky, USA for funding this work; the individuals who collected the fecal samples, and the associated departments for allowing the fecal samples to be part of this work. John May (lab technician) of ERTL, UKY is thanked for his technical assistance in using GC-MS.


  • Fecal bile acids
  • Fecal samples
  • Fecal sterols
  • GC-MS
  • Statistical analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecological Modeling
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Pollution


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