December 11, 2017

Real-time Analyses for Emerging Contaminants

Scientists in all areas of life science, including basic research, biotechnology, medicine, forensics, diagnostics, and industry, are utilizing molecular techniques in a wide range of applications.  Real-time or quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) is a widely used method in many of these areas of science and is the most studied of the new methods for detecting and quantifying microbes (i.e. bacteria, viruses, protozoa, etc.) in water.

This technology has many advantages, which make it attractive for measuring microbes in water.  The qPCR method is very specific to the target organisms being detected. In addition, the qPCR technology is very rapid, with results in about two to three hours (compared to detecting and identifying microbes with cultural methods that require about 24 hours, with some microbes requiring several days or weeks before they appear in culture).

Des Moines Water Works recently purchased qPCR equipment which will allow staff to greatly expand monitoring capabilities, with the ability to look for a multitude of organisms from a small amount of sample utilizing a single instrument.  Specifically, staff will begin analyzing toxic versus non-toxic blooms of cyanobacteria, as well as specific gene targets for toxin production.  Harmful algal blooms (HABs), which are large, rapid-growing populations of cyanobacteria, are caused by excess nutrients from farm fertilizer.

In some instances, cyanobacteria contain genes that allow them to produce toxins, which raise health concerns.  In 2014, the City of Toledo, OH, issued a “do not drink” order for several days to its 500,000 customers.  A toxin released by cyanobacteria in Lake Erie contaminated the water supply.  The toxins produced by cyanobacteria are unregulated and emerging contaminants; however, Des Moines Water Works has embraced the health advisory and protocols, and has invested in new protocols and equipment to monitor proactively.

 

Posted by: Laura Sarcone No Comments
Labels: , , , , Posted in Source Water, Water Quality, Water Treatment

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