Meaningful Detection of Known and Emerging Pathogens in Drinking Water

EPA Grant Number: R826828
Title: Meaningful Detection of Known and Emerging Pathogens in Drinking Water
Investigators: Cangelosi, Gerard A.
Institution: University of Washington , Seattle Biomedical Research Institute
EPA Project Officer: Hahn, Intaek
Project Period: September 1, 1998 through August 31, 2001
Project Amount: $360,609
RFA: Drinking Water (1998) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Drinking Water , Water


Providers of safe drinking water must balance the conflicting needs of controlling microbial contamination and minimizing health risks associated with disinfection byproducts. Essential to this endeavor are microbiological monitoring methods that are practical, meaningful, and adaptable to newly-discovered or emerging pathogens. Many such pathogens are difficult or impossible to cultivate in laboratory media, and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) detection of their genetic material in water can be of uncertain significance because of the detection of dead cells or their remnants. We hypothesize that these problems can be overcome by using standard molecular methods to detect two non-standard nucleic acid analytes, rRNA precursors (pre-rRNA) and bromodeoxyuridine-labeled DNA (BrDU-DNA). Both of these analytes can be detected in species-specific fashion and both are diagnostic of cells capable of nucleic acid synthesis and growth. We will build on preliminary data that have shown the potential utility of pre-rRNA and BrdU-DNA assays in clinical diagnostic laboratories. We will modify these assays for water supply analysis, and use them to answer questions regarding the survival in drinking water of two bacterial pathogens, Mycobacterium avium and Helicobacter pylori.


We will use bacterial model systems (Escherichia coli, M. avium, and/or H. pylori), and water samples obtained from the Seattle Department of Public Utilities, to test the feasibility and utility of measuring bacterial pre-rRNA and BrdU-DNA in water supplies. The assays will be used to study the starvation kinetics of M. avium in drinking water and the resistance of this pathogen to disinfection. We will also determine whether the assays can distinguish replicative from nonreplicative forms of H. pylori in water.

Expected Results:

Our assays are designed to overcome the most significant challenge associated with genotypic detection of microorganisms in environmental samples, namely the false-positive detection of residual nucleic acid from dead cells or contaminants. If successful, our methods can help drinking water providers to know where, when, and how to control emerging pathogens in the water supply. These tools will also yield long-awaited answers on the role of drinking water, if any, in the transmission of M. avium and H. pylori.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 6 publications for this project

Journal Articles:

Journal Articles have been submitted on this project: View all 3 journal articles for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

Human health, infectious disease, decision making, epidemiology, biology, genetics, probes, environmental testing, analytical, measurement, Washington State., RFA, Scientific Discipline, Geographic Area, Water, Environmental Chemistry, Health Risk Assessment, State, Environmental Monitoring, Drinking Water, monitoring, microbial contamination, pathogens, Safe Drinking Water, human health effects, microbiological organisms, detection, exposure and effects, disinfection byproducts (DPBs), exposure, mycobacterium avium complex, kinetics, community water system, Washington (WA), genotoxicity, infectious disease, treatment, microbial risk management, water quality, drinking water contaminants, heliocobacter pylori, infectivity, water treatment

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 1999 Progress Report
  • 2000 Progress Report
  • Final Report