Microbial water quality methods: from lab to the field

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Water quality is influenced by interacting microbial populations and introduced microbial and chemical contaminants. Clean and safe drinking water is vital for human health. Globally, at least 2 billion people use a drinking water source contaminated with faeces. More than 800,000 people die annually from drinking unsafe water, and from having poor sanitation and hand hygiene practices. Consumption of microbial-contaminated water can result in diarrheal illnesses and enteropathy, with the heaviest impact upon children below the age of five. Contaminated water can contain a wide variety of pathogens, including bacteria, viruses, protozoa and helminths. Powerful, sensitive and reproducible methods for effectively monitoring water quality are essential. Currently there is no unified protocol to encompass the collection and analysis of a water sample for all important pathogens. Detection method challenges include the physical differences between the major pathogen groups, low concentration of pathogens in large volumes of water, sample inhibitors, establishing protocols for sample collection, culture-independent detection methods, and the accurate detection of the host origin of pathogens. Faecal indicator organisms, normally coliforms, are used to indicate faecal contamination and as a measure of microbial quality in drinking water, wastewater and recreational water. The difficulty in finding associations between indicator organisms and health outcomes highlights the challenges in water quality research. Important requirements for reliable analysis include specificity, sensitivity, reproducibility of results, speed, and low cost. Where culture dependent methods are applied, these are limited by their relatively low sensitivity and turn-around-time.

Current and future global challenges include;
- detecting viable, but non-culturable microorganisms,
-improved pathogen survival in biofilms,
-climate change,
-increasing water scarcity, antibiotic resistance, and a growing global population.

Next-generation sequencing (NGS) technologies are providing new insights into the ecology of microbially mediated processes that influence fresh water quality such as algal blooms, contaminant biodegradation, pathogen dissemination and diversity.

Acknowledgements: The SAFEWATER Project Global Challenges Research Fund Research Councils UK Collective Fund (EP/P032427/1).
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 21 Jun 2018
EventInternational Research Workshop on Solar technologies for water disinfection for developing communities - Ulster University, NIBEC, Jordanstown, Newtownabbey, United Kingdom
Duration: 21 Jun 201821 Jun 2018


WorkshopInternational Research Workshop on Solar technologies for water disinfection for developing communities
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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