One of the research projects in the Hegarty Lab in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Case Western Reserve University focused on developing novel phage-based drinking water treatment technologies.
Bacteria in drinking water can affect water quality both directly (by causing disease) or indirectly (by causing corrosion or nitrification). The recent rise in opportunistic pathogens from drinking water exposure in many cities in the United States has demonstrated the need for novel approaches to control bacteria in drinking water. Harnessing bacteriophages (viruses that infect bacteria but are harmless to humans) may be one possible way to control opportunistic pathogens in drinking water. However, much remains unknown about bacteriophages in drinking water.
To fill this gap, it is essential to develop better ways of concentrating viruses from drinking water, as well as improved bioinformatics techniques for identifying viral sequences from metagenomes. This research will provide essential information about the bacteriophages present in drinking water and their target host range and is critical to assess the feasibility of designing a bacteriophage-based method for controlling bacterial abundance in drinking water systems. Further, it will fill gaps in our understanding of the viral ecology of drinking water distribution systems.
Open questions motivating this work include:
How do viruses in drinking water affect water quality?
Can viruses be used as a targeted water treatment process?