Nav: Home

What's really in the water

February 27, 2017

PITTSBURGH (February 27, 2017) ... U.S. beaches and waterways are often closed to human contact when tests indicate an increase in E. coli, usually after heavy rains overwhelm sewage systems. However, the concentration of these common bacteria is not a reliable indicator of viruses in the water, which present a greater danger of causing illness in humans. Through a five-year, $500,000 CAREEER Award from the National Science Foundation, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh's Swanson School of Engineering will be developing new DNA sequencing methods to directly measure viral loads in water and better indicate potential threats to human health.

"Quantitative Viral Metagenomics for Water Quality Assessment," funded through the NSF's Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental, and Transport Systems, is being led by Kyle J. Bibby, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at the Swanson School. The CAREER program is the NSF's most prestigious award for junior faculty who exemplify outstanding research, teaching, and their integration.

Dr. Bibby's expertise in genomics tools to study, understand, and solve environmental challenges influenced this latest research, which will capitalize on new genetic sequencing tools used in medicine.

"Viruses can persist in water longer than E.coli, and are an important component of disease caused by contaminated water," Dr. Bibby said. "Although viruses don't often appear in greater concentrations than bacteria, they still present a danger especially when waterways are contaminated by human waste."

According to Dr. Bibby, conventional methods used to detect viral pathogens in the environment are limited because of viral diversity. However, advances in medicine, specifically in DNA sequencing, have increased the ability to detect even the slightest viral load. Dr. Bibby's group, which previously studied the persistence of the Ebola virus in the environment and has worked to develop novel indicators of viral contamination, will utilize quantitative viral metagenomics for viral water quality assessment.

"There's actually very little known about viral pathogen diversity and dynamics in wastewater-impacted systems because in the past, viruses were difficult to detect. New DNA sequencing methods and methods to concentrate the virus and analyze the data rapidly and accurately are necessary for this method applicable and economical. In addition, we need to demonstrate the efficiency and accuracy across several sources in the U.S.," Dr. Bibby said.

The CAREER Award includes an outreach component that allows Dr. Bibby to engage with students at the Pittsburgh Public School's Science & Technology Academy (SciTech) next to the Swanson School, leading to development of a hands-on educational module for high school students to characterize microbial water quality. Dr. Bibby will also utilize the research to expand the H2Oh! interactive exhibit he developed with the Carnegie Science Center, enabling children to better understand the impact of water quality on everyday life.

"Applying quantitative viral metagenomics to these DNA/RNA sequencing techniques has the potential to advance water quality monitoring not only in developing countries, but also in U.S. municipal systems that currently rely on fecal indicator bacteria such as E. coli to determine water quality," Dr. Bibby said. "In the future, viral pathogen detection would be greatly beneficial in many other settings, such as sudden viral outbreaks, food production safety, and viral epidemiology."
-end-
@PittEngineering; @kylejbibby

University of Pittsburgh

Related Bacteria Articles:

Conducting shell for bacteria
Under anaerobic conditions, certain bacteria can produce electricity. This behavior can be exploited in microbial fuel cells, with a special focus on wastewater treatment schemes.
Controlling bacteria's necessary evil
Until now, scientists have only had a murky understanding of how these relationships arise.
Bacteria take a deadly risk to survive
Bacteria need mutations -- changes in their DNA code -- to survive under difficult circumstances.
How bacteria hunt other bacteria
A bacterial species that hunts other bacteria has attracted interest as a potential antibiotic, but exactly how this predator tracks down its prey has not been clear.
Chlamydia: How bacteria take over control
To survive in human cells, chlamydiae have a lot of tricks in store.
Stress may protect -- at least in bacteria
Antibiotics harm bacteria and stress them. Trimethoprim, an antibiotic, inhibits the growth of the bacterium Escherichia coli and induces a stress response.
'Pulling' bacteria out of blood
Magnets instead of antibiotics could provide a possible new treatment method for blood infection.
New findings detail how beneficial bacteria in the nose suppress pathogenic bacteria
Staphylococcus aureus is a common colonizer of the human body.
Understanding your bacteria
New insight into bacterial cell division could lead to advancements in the fight against harmful bacteria.
Bacteria are individualists
Cells respond differently to lack of nutrients.

Related Bacteria Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Bias And Perception
How does bias distort our thinking, our listening, our beliefs... and even our search results? How can we fight it? This hour, TED speakers explore ideas about the unconscious biases that shape us. Guests include writer and broadcaster Yassmin Abdel-Magied, climatologist J. Marshall Shepherd, journalist Andreas Ekström, and experimental psychologist Tony Salvador.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#513 Dinosaur Tails
This week: dinosaurs! We're discussing dinosaur tails, bipedalism, paleontology public outreach, dinosaur MOOCs, and other neat dinosaur related things with Dr. Scott Persons from the University of Alberta, who is also the author of the book "Dinosaurs of the Alberta Badlands".