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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/N02950X/1
Title: Uncovering microbial tactics in drinking water supply systems: using advances in genetics for countering the effects of climate change
Principal Investigator: Douterelo Soler, Dr I
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Autonomous University of Madrid KWR Watercycle Research Institute Polytechnic University of Catalonia UPC
South West Water Ltd University of Colorado at Boulder Utrecht University
Wessex Water Ltd Yorkshire Water
Department: Civil and Structural Engineering
Organisation: University of Sheffield
Scheme: EPSRC Fellowship
Starts: 01 September 2016 Ends: 31 August 2019 Value (£): 369,071
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Urban & Land Management Water Engineering
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
24 Feb 2016 LWEC Challenge Fellowships Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
This research will directly benefit society in the UK and abroad by increasing the effectiveness of water companies. The aim of the fellowship is to establish new research avenues for innovation in the field of urban water engineering and to bring novel practical solutions to the water-related challenges, in particular climate change, existing in the UK and worldwide.

The proposal addresses the EPSRC/LWEC fundamental question "How can our cities, their hinterlands, linking infrastructure, rural surround and the regions they are in, be transformed to be resilient, sustainable, more economically viable and generally better places to live?". To answer this challenging question the research will investigate the impact of environmental change on drinking water distribution systems (DWDS) with the aim of generating new knowledge and tools that will improve the way drinking water is supplied in our cities, in a sustainable and economically viable way. As a consequence of climate change water sources used for water supply will be more contaminated and limited, the temperature of the water will increase and long-term changes in water demand will affect pipe hydraulics. All these changes will significantly affect biological and physico-chemical processes taking place in DWDS and will force water companies to modify the way they deliver water via DWDS.

The fellowship will support the essential first steps in a new research line where my aim is to integrate microbiology, genetics and water engineering to explore in detail hidden aspects of DWDS in order to develop a whole system understanding. At present, the monitoring strategies for drinking water involve detecting microorganisms in water from taps using "old-fashioned" culture methods. However, the microbial composition of water is not representative of the biofilms (microbial assemblages) attached to pipes and culture-dependent methods underestimate the real microbial diversity in DWDS. Biofilms have great importance since they contain most of the microbial biomass in DWDS and they influence water quality and safety by, for example, hosting pathogens, promoting pipe corrosion and changes in water taste and colour. Consequently, there is an urgent need for research on how microorganisms will respond to environmental change within DWDS and how this will impact on DWDS performance and on drinking water safety and quality. Since DWDS are not sterile (i.e. completely free from microorganisms), research is also needed to identify which parameters support the presence of "friendly microorganisms" capable of maintaining the good performance of DWDS but also discouraging harmful microorganisms from surviving in the pipes.

To answer these questions the research will assess different climate change situations in DWDS tested under controlled laboratory conditions including: increase in water temperature, increase in water nitrogen and phosphorus and extreme hydraulic fluctuations. Analysis of DNA/RNA from experimental samples will be used to uncover the link between microbial diversity (who is there?) and function (what are they doing?), and will help to identify genes involved in a range of processes including resistance to disinfection and pathogenic potential. Biological and environmental data will be integrated using hydro/bioinformatic methods with the ultimate aim of developing novel monitoring and management tools: 1) a new risk assessment framework; and 2) Biological Early Warning Systems (BEWS). The efficiency of these tools will be tested using real data from UK water companies and European partners. Dissemination of findings to industry, academics and the general public will be supported by the Pennine Water Group and through the Sheffield Water Centre.

The fellowship will facilitate the development of my career as a world leader in urban water research by creating a new platform for innovation in molecular microbiology and hydraulic engineering.

Key Findings
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Potential use in non-academic contexts
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Date Materialised
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Organisation Website: http://www.shef.ac.uk