Microsporidia in the Upstate New York Watersheds: Organismal Prevalence in Surface Water in and Around Reservoirs Serving New York City

EPA Grant Number: U915925
Title: Microsporidia in the Upstate New York Watersheds: Organismal Prevalence in Surface Water in and Around Reservoirs Serving New York City
Investigators: Rinaldi, Theresa J.
Institution: CUNY John Jay College Criminal Justice
EPA Project Officer: Graham, Karen
Project Period: January 1, 2001 through December 31, 2002
Project Amount: $52,872
RFA: Minority Academic Institutions (MAI) Fellowships for Graduate Environmental Study (2001) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Ecological Indicators/Assessment/Restoration , Academic Fellowships , Fellowship - Environmental Science


The objective of this research project is to investigate factors that contribute to the incidence of microsporidia in the environment and to pinpoint possible routes of surface water contamination. The term microsporidia refers to a collection of opportunistic protists with the capacity to infect humans. These organisms most often afflict the immunocompromised, causing intestinal disease that can be lethal in severe cases. In fact, the prevalence of infectious microsporidiosis in HIV and AIDS patients with chronic diarrhea is as high as 50 percent (Cotte, et al., 1999). Although the incidence of infection is high, the source of microsporidia infection and the microbe's distribution in the environment are still largely unknown. Current research has focused upon drinking water as a potential reservoir of infection because of the widespread occurrence of microsporidiosis. This research will build upon previous U.S. Environmental Protection Agency funded work that developed a sensitive detection method for different species of microsporidia and will apply this innovation to environmental sampling.


The proposed research will utilize existing protocols for the detection of and differentiation between microsporidia species in water samples through the use of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Further, it will devise an efficient method of filtration and concentration of sample water to isolate microsporidia. Finally, it will apply these techniques to field samples taken at various water sources to determine the efficacy of the protocol and, ultimately, the distribution of microsporidia in the environment.

Although this project uses the water systems serving New York City as a prototype for its research, the information obtained on the modes of microsporidia contamination has global application. The outlined protocol will be a useful tool in discovering how microsporidia enter our environment, and it could serve to improve purity in a range of affected water systems worldwide.

On a scientific level, this research will broaden our knowledge of a lethal, yet elusive human pathogen. It will optimize a reliable detection system for microsporidia, allowing for the visualization of the organism’s distribution in the environment and the identification of microbial “hotspots” that warrant further investigation. It will quantitate the proportion of environmental microsporidia making its way into the public drinking water system and posing a health risk. On a political level, the information gleaned from this research could be an impetus to policy change concerning water treatment procedures and sources of microsporidia contamination. Taken as a whole, this information has the potential to affect the health of many immunocompromised individuals and stem the financial burden of health care for patients suffering from microsporidia infection. In sum, this research will serve to draw attention to an emerging microbial threat and shed light on how to best manage the existence of microsporidia in our environment.


Cotte L, Rabondonirina M, Chapuis F, Bailly F, Bissuel F, Raynal C, Gelas P, Persat F, Piens M, Trepo C. Waterborne outbreak of intestinal microsporidiosis in persons with and without human immunodeficiency virus infection. Journal of Infectious Disease 1999;180(6):2003-2008.

Supplemental Keywords:

fellowship, microsporidiosis, microsporidia, drinking water, New York City watersheds, New York City reservoirs, immunocompromised surface, protist, intracellular parasite, surface water contamination, polymerase chain reaction, PCR, RFA, Scientific Discipline, Water, Environmental Chemistry, Health Risk Assessment, Environmental Microbiology, Drinking Water, reservoirs, watersheds, polymerase chain reaction, drinking water monitoring, emerging pathogens, water quality, microbial exposure, drinking water contaminants, microsporidia, human health

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2001
  • Final