Nav: Home

Pitt civil engineering research going viral with bacteriophages

November 29, 2016

PITTSBURGH (November 29, 2016) ... Believed by some to be the most abundant known virus in the human digestive system, cross-assembly phage (shortened to crAssphage) remained undetected until researchers sorting through hundreds of thousands of lines of DNA accidentally stumbled upon its circular viral genome of about 97,000 base pairs. A study published in the journal Nature Communications officially introduced crAssphage to the world in the summer of 2014.

Despite the bad rap of most headline-making viruses, crAssphage can't make you sick. It's a bacteriophage, which means it infects bacteria, and it may actually help to keep you healthy by feeding on potentially harmful gut bacteria. Because it resides exclusively in the human digestive tract, crAssphage may also serve as an accurate indicator of viral contamination in food and water. Thanks to a recent award by the Center for Produce Safety (CPS), a researcher at the University of Pittsburgh's Swanson School of Engineering will investigate whether crAssphage can indicate contamination in water used for irrigating crops.

"Viruses, not bacteria, pose the greatest risk to people exposed to contaminated water; however, water quality is currently monitored using bacterial indicators," said Kyle Bibby, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Pitt and principal investigator. "Bacteria are actually poor representatives of viruses in water samples. Ideally, we would use viruses, but many viral indicators are limited because they can be difficult to detect in the environment. The abundancy of crAssphage in sewage makes it a promising candidate for finding pathogens."

Dr. Bibby began studying crAssphage after receiving a National Science Foundation grant designed to use the bacteriophage to track the source of pollution in waterways. The ongoing study is an attempt to achieve the ultimate goal of the Clean Water Act, which seeks to eliminate environmental pollution until all of the United States waterways are "fishable and swimmable."

Waterways contaminated with human fecal matter are particularly threatening to human health because they are more likely to contain pathogens such as Salmonella, Hepatitis A and Norwalk-group viruses. Rather than testing for each pathogen individually, a technique called "microbial source tracking" can determine if a water sample is contaminated by using an indicator microorganism likely to inhabit the same environmental conditions as the pathogens. Because crAssphage's abundance in human feces, its presence in a water sample is likely to serve as a good indicator of fecal contamination and associated pathogens.

Finding an accurate and abundant indicator of contamination in water used to irrigate crops could have an enormous impact on the fresh produce industry. But first, Dr. Bibby and his team will need to prove crAssphage to be a reliable indicator for contamination. The study, "Developing Cross-Assembly Phage as a Viral Indicator for Irrigation Waters," will sample irrigation water and measure crAssphage, viruses and other indicators that establish a correlation between crAssphage and pathogens.

"We will need to take enough water samples to determine if crAssphage appears in irrigation water," Dr. Bibby explained. "The next step would be taking a retrospective look at contamination outbreaks and finding a correlation between crAssphage's presence and the spread of disease. Having an effective viral marker for detecting pollution would greatly increase public safety and produce quality."
-end-


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

Climate Crisis
There's no greater threat to humanity than climate change. What can we do to stop the worst consequences? This hour, TED speakers explore how we can save our planet and whether we can do it in time. Guests include climate activist Greta Thunberg, chemical engineer Jennifer Wilcox, research scientist Sean Davis, food innovator Bruce Friedrich, and psychologist Per Espen Stoknes.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#527 Honey I CRISPR'd the Kids
This week we're coming to you from Awesome Con in Washington, D.C. There, host Bethany Brookshire led a panel of three amazing guests to talk about the promise and perils of CRISPR, and what happens now that CRISPR babies have (maybe?) been born. Featuring science writer Tina Saey, molecular biologist Anne Simon, and bioethicist Alan Regenberg. A Nobel Prize winner argues banning CRISPR babies won’t work Geneticists push for a 5-year global ban on gene-edited babies A CRISPR spin-off causes unintended typos in DNA News of the first gene-edited babies ignited a firestorm The researcher who created CRISPR twins defends...