As part of the requirements of FOR /496797, Perspectives on Career and Gender, student share responsibility for reporting on the WiSE Professions Speaker Series. The following was prepared by Stacy Furgal, a MS student in EFB.
Dr. Amy Pruden, of Virginia Tech, presented her research relating to antibiotic resistance and opportunistic pathogens as environmental contaminants on Tuesday, April 26. This lecture was part of SUNY ESF’s Women in Science and Environmental Professions Spring Seminar Series.
The lecture focused on the problem of antibiotic resistant genes (ARGs) and opportunistic pathogens (OPs) found in our water (both municipal and well), and the potential problems this could cause from a public health perspective. The water infrastructure in our country is antiquated and aging, and poorly suited to address these new contaminant issues. Current regulatory monitoring requirements do not apply to ARGs and OPs, but rather were designed with ingestion exposure type pathogens, like Cholera, in mind. Now the primary sources of water associated outbreaks are like Legionnaires’ Disease, which is acquired via breathing in particles that contain the bacteria, not ingesting infected water.
With that in mind, her multidisciplinary team is working to blend engineering and biology to find solutions to this complex issue. Dr. Pruden explained, using some of her and her colleagues’ work in Flint, MI, an examples. As most people know, a crisis occurred in Flint when the source for city drinking water was switched from Lake Michigan to the Flint River. The water from the Flint River had a higher salinity content, which corroded the pipes and caused lead to leach out into the water. Less well known is that this also released iron that acted as fuel for Legionella bacteria to grow. Her team investigated the increased number of reported cases of Legionnaires’ Disease and was able to link it to the corroded pipes through genetic markers.
Her team was also involved in a project that compared the amount of ARGs and OPs in regular potable water versus water that had been treated and reused, or “recycled.” The study found that recycled water had more microbial activity, and more abundance and diversity of ARGs. It was also clear that the water tested at the water treatment facility had a different “resistome” (collection of ARGs) than water coming out of a tap in a home receiving water from that facility.
Both of Dr. Pruden’s studies highlighted that there should be a shared responsibility between utilities (water treatment facilities) and homeowners. Water quality at the point of use, i.e. in homes, is of the greatest concern to public health. Using a holistic approach, we need new frameworks and updated mitigation strategies to handle the new and emerging issue of antibiotic resistant genes and opportunistic pathogens. This is best done by a multidisciplinary team, like Dr. Pruden’s, that brings biologists, engineers, chemists, utility managers, and more, together to tackle the problem.
Dr. Pruden received her B.S. in Biology and Ph.D. in Environmental Science from University of Cincinnati. She is a professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the Associate Dean and Director of Interdisciplinary Graduate Education in the Graduate School at Virginia Tech, as well as a W. Thomas Rice Professor. She serves as the Director of Strategic Planning for the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Sciences Water Sustainability Thrust, is an Associate Editor for the journal Biodegradation, and serves on an advisory panel on Contaminants of Emerging Concern (CECs) in recycled water. Dr. Pruden has published more than 50 peer-reviewed manuscripts and book chapters on subjects pertaining to bioremediation, pathogens, and antibiotic resistance.
For more information about the Women in Scientific and Environmental Professions Speaker Series, please visit http://www.esf.edu/womenscaucus/speakers.htm .