Warren Lecture with Ameet Pinto
“Monitoring Microbes and Managing their Ecology in Drinking Water Systems”
ABSTRACT: Drinking water can contain tens of millions of diverse microbial cells in every liter. While most microbes in drinking water do not pose a human health risk, the presence of pathogenic microbes can have severe health implications and the underlying causes for microbial contamination can vary significantly. Developing strategies to avoid microbial contamination of drinking water is essential; there is also a need for a radical change in terms of how we detect and respond to failures. The existing paradigm of targeted microbial detection can result in sample-to-data time gap of more than two-three days. The application of molecular methods promises to change this, although key limitations (i.e., cost, expertise requirements, etc.) make their application for real-time microbial monitoring challenging. The ideal approach for monitoring drinking water would be to develop a sensitive and robust platform that can be deployed across the drinking water network and one that can stream data in real-time to consumers and to drinking water treatment plant operators. Pinto focuses on ongoing work on the development of low cost optical- and DNA sequencing-based methods for real-time microbial detection, quantitation, and characterization. Pinto also highlights important challenges that need to be overcome to realize the future of microbial monitoring in drinking water which will be real-time, autonomous, decentralized, and scalable.