In order to better understand and assess the quality of ground and spring water, state-of-the-art methods from the fields of molecular biology and microbiology, as well as chemical high-performance analytics are now developed. This has been made possible by a project currently underway at the Karl Landsteiner University of Health Sciences (KL Krems).
The aim of the project is to combine new technologies across a number of disciplines to evaluate the growth of water-based bacteria and their biochemical processes. This will make it possible to determine and predict the biostability of water with much more accuracy than before, thus making a fundamental contribution to water hygiene and health.
The project, which is funded by the federal state of Lower Austria, is based on internationally recognised research conducted at the Interuniversity Cooperation Center Water & Health (ICC Water & Health) and at the Department of Agrobiotechnology, IFA-Tulln, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna, which enable bacteria and their activities in water samples to be precisely characterised.
Water is not just H2O when it bubbles up as ground or spring water, for example. It also contains a myriad of microorganisms whose natural habitat is the cool water. Up until now, very little has been known about how the water-based bacterial community develops in ground and source water. It is therefore still difficult to ascertain or predict its potential effect on the quality of the water after it is stored and distributed. At KL Krems, a project funded by the FTI Programme, a programme run by the federal state of Lower Austria, has taken this issue on board and is developing a pioneering combination of processes that are designed to facilitate, for the first time, a comprehensive analysis of the dynamic of water-based bacteria and thus of the associated biochemical key processes when water resources are used.
“Ready to Go!” For Aquascreen
Prof. Andreas Farnleitner is coordinating the AQUASCREEN project, as it is known. The Head of the Department of Water Quality and Health at KL Krems explains the background to the project: “Existing standard methods to detect microorganisms in ground and spring water are based on principles dating back to the 19th century. These focus mainly on bacteria that pollute the water from the surface rather than water-based bacteria, some of which we know absolutely nothing about.”
“Less than 1% of water-based bacteria can generally be detected using the standard methods. Up until now, therefore, we have known very little about the development of these natural water microbiota and how they can affect the quality of the water over longer periods when it is stored and distributed. A better understanding of these dynamics, including the existing nutrient and environment situation, is necessary to assess and predict the quality of drinking water but also to identify potential health risks.”
Into the 21st century with Aquascreen
In cooperation with ICC Water & Health, IFA-Tulln and EVN Wasser GesmbH, a new combination of processes are being developed. This will be able to determine the existence and growth of water-based bacteria more directly and with more accuracy and speed. In order to achieve this, following a simulation of the storage of water, the team will deploy state-of-the-art sequencing techniques and cytometric methods in which bacterial cells are stained with a fluorescent dye and optically captured. The advantages of these methods are obvious for Prof. Farnleitner’s team colleagues, Prof. Alexander Kirschner and Prof. Regina Sommer, who is based at the Institute for Hygiene and Applied Immunology at the Medical University of Vienna.
It will be possible to directly detect and identify the actively growing populations of the water-based bacterial communities, and not just to search indirectly for selected indicator bacteria, which could indicate external contamination.
Based on this, Dr. Wolfgang Kandler at IFA Tulln will link this process with a third element – chemical high-performance analytics. This should make it easier to trace both the existence and growth of water-based bacteria and the associated biochemical key processes in the water supply.