On the “shelf life” of water: Hot on the trail of the biostability of water using state-of-the-art DNA and cell analysis

Karl Landsteiner University of Health Sciences in Krems launches project to study the growth of water-based microorganisms 

Krems (Austria), 9 August 2018 – 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 is 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 are based at the Institute for Hygiene and Applied Immunology at the Medical University of Vienna. Prof. Kirschner says: “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 water supply.

FTI programme supports research 

The project is supported by the federal state of Lower Austria with funding provided by the FTI Programme, which has an interdisciplinary focus on nutrition, medicine and health. The federal state is thereby making a significant contribution to the further expansion of KL Krems focus on water quality and health. AQUASCREEN can thus build seamlessly on current results generated by NÖ Forschungs- und Bildungsges.m.b.H. (NFB) as part of the AQUASAFE project funded by Science Call 2015. This project develops and refines a new approach to determine the origin of faecal contamination in water. In addition, highly specific, quantitative evidence of minute quantities of genetic material (DNA) from specific human and animal gut bacteria is developed. Thanks to the consistent support of this research work, KL Krems has managed, within a short space of time, to make important contributions to health and quality of life through its research on water quality and health.

About Karl Landsteiner University of Health Sciences 

Karl Landsteiner University of Health Sciences (KL) is a pioneer for innovation in medical and health sciences education and research, and a catalyst for groundbreaking work which will benefit society at large. Research at KL focuses on niche fields in bridge disciplines such as biomedical engineering, psychodynamics and psychology, as well as topics including water quality and related health issues. Study programmes include health sciences, human medicine, and psychotherapy and counselling and have full European recognition. A network of university hospitals in St Poelten, Krems, and Tulln provides students with quality-assured, research-led education; it enables them to do top-class clinical research that is recognised worldwide. Karl Landsteiner University received accreditation by the Agency for Quality Assurance and Accreditation Austria (AQ Austria) in 2013.

About the Interuniversity Cooperation Centre for Water & Health

The Interuniversity Cooperation Centre for Water & Health (ICC Water & Health) is a scientific platform and expert partner on topics concerning water quality and its impact on human health. The ICC is dedicated to the development of innovative concepts for the assessment of water quality, new microbiology and molecular biology methods, the feasibility assessment of physical and chemical water treatment methods, and numerical models for estimating the risks of infection and disease associated with water use. The insights gained are used for the extrapolation of effective and sustainable management measures for the protection of health. The ICC was founded by the Technische Universität Wien and the Medical University of Vienna in 2010 and was able to be established on a long-term basis thanks to the competitive research funding provided by the Federal Ministry for Digital, Business and Enterprise (BMWFW). The Karl Landsteiner University of Health Sciences (KL) became a member of the ICC Water & Health in 2017. KL is now an official part of the research platform.

Scientific Contact
Prof. Andreas Farnleitner
Water Quality and Health Division
Karl Landsteiner University of Health Sciences
Dr.-Karl-Dorrek-Straße 30
3500 Krems an der Donau, Austria
M + 43 (0)664 / 605 88 22 44
Eandreas.farnleitner@kl.ac.at
W http://www.kl.ac.at/

Karl Landsteiner University of Health Science
Barbara M. Peutz
Communications, PR & Marketing
Dr.-Karl-Dorrek-Straße 30
3500 Krems / Austria
T +43 2732 72090 230
M +43 664 889 558 49
E barbara.peutz@kl.ac.at
W http://www.kl.ac.at/

Copy Editing & Distribution
PR&D – Public Relations for Research & Education
Ira Paschinger
Mariannengasse 8
1090 Vienna / Austria
T +43 / 1 / 505 70 44
E paschinger@prd.at
W http://www.prd.at/