What's in Your Water - Besides Water?
The contamination of drinking water by microbial pathogens is the most pressing water supply problem of our day. In Canada alone, over 20 percent of surface waters are contaminated with Giardia, which causes a diarrheal illness, and about five percent test positive for Cryptosporidium, the pathogen considered to be one of the greatest threats to our drinking water supply.
Globally, illnesses due to waterborne pathogens are responsible for more deaths each year than AIDS and cancer combined. As the world's growing population puts greater demands on the available supply of quality drinking water, researchers are looking for better methods to protect water sources and treat degraded waters.
In natural environments and engineered systems such as water treatment plants, one of the most important factors controlling the fate of microbial pathogens is their interaction with the surface of granular media or sediment grains. Canada Research Chair Dr. Nathalie Tufenkji studies these interactions under changing environmental conditions. She uses state-of-the-art instrumentation to measure the migration and attachment of different microorganisms to various surfaces of interest. By relating these microscopic measurements to macroscale laboratory experiments and then to field-scale observations, she is developing methods to predict the transport potential of these microbes in different environments.
Tufenkji's research may end up playing a significant role in the medical and dental spheres as well, where scientists are concerned about microbe adhesion and are trying to find ways to prevent the formation of biofilm, the slime layer that develops when bacteria adhere to surfaces.
By spanning a broad range of environmental and biomedical applications, Tufenkji's research is providing us with the knowledge base and the resources to help protect the quality of our drinking water supply.