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Global Survey of Drinking Water Sources

Project Full Title:

Global Survey of Particulate Load, Heavy Metals, and Microbial Populations in Drinking Water

Project Mentor(s):

Best,Aaron; Peterson,Jonathan; Pikaart,Michael

Project Mentor(s) EMail:;;

Project Start Date:


Project End Date:


Project Description:

This interdisciplinary project will incorporate the disciplines of biology, geology and chemistry. The field of microbiology has been profoundly changed by the advent of high throughput sequencing technologies in the past 10 years. Traditionally, culture-based methods have been used to census microbial populations from environments, but this has long been known to miss the vast majority of microbes present in a sample. It is estimated that significantly less than 1% of the microbes from a given environment can be grown in the lab. This discrepancy has been addressed by using molecular approaches to understand “who” is present in a sample at the microbial level by targeting a specific “name tag” molecule called 16S rRNA. Every organism has this molecule, and specific sequences in the molecule can identify an organism to the genus level. The ability to do this on a large scale has led to the rapidly growing field of microbiome research, which is being applied to numerous problems including human microbiomes associated with disease. State-of-the-art studies to understand microbial populations associated with humans and water sources around the world focus on one or a few sites, often restricted to a single country or continent. Through a collaboration with Sawyer, Inc., we propose to survey microbial populations associated with drinking water around the world. The positioning of Sawyer water filters around the world offers unprecedented opportunity to systematically survey microbial populations associated with drinking water across the globe. These surveys can be linked to human health outcomes as water filters are introduced into communities. We will correlate changes in microbial populations with chemical and antibiotic components found in water sources. We will also assess changes associated with drinking water source type, local geography, and various factors that could affect drinking water quality. Students will be involved in all aspects of the project, from assessment of filter handling strategies, to extraction of DNA from filters returned from the field, to sequencing, to large scale data set analysis.

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