Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2018LA116B

Disinfection of Amoebae in Municipal Water Supplies

Institute: Louisiana
Year Established: 2018 Start Date: 2018-03-01 End Date: 2019-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $12,000 Total Non-Federal Funds: $27,669

Principal Investigators: Samuel Snow

Abstract: The infestation of brain-eating amoebae in a city’s drinking water supply sounds like the plot line of a recent Hollywood horror, zombie-apocalypse flick. Perhaps the most terrifying aspect of is the fact that this narrative is not fiction: at least not for Louisiana. Recent stories of fatal amoebic infections—technically known as primary amoebic meningoencephalitis caused by the amoeba known as Naegleria fowleri—have demonstrated that many Louisianan drinking water supplies are, in fact, infected with this brain-eating amoeba.1, 2 The first, obvious question that must be asked is why haven’t these pathogenic amoebae been eliminated during water treatment processes? Part of the answer is that most pathogenic organisms fall into one of three primary categories: viruses (e.g., Norovirus), bacteria (e.g., Salmonella), or protozoa (e.g., Giardia); and until very recently, amoebae were not considered a public health threat. Consequently, our water treatment systems are not designed to handle pathogenic amoebae. In fact, only a very small portion of disinfection studies have examined amoebae. The situation for Louisiana is particularly bleak, because the State has a significant amount of naturally present Naegleria fowleri and there is currently a lack of expertise on water treatment technology. Due to this shortage, Louisiana has outsourced the review of treatment processes to an out-of-state consulting company.3 The development of a research group with the expertise to address this pressing issue is, therefore, economically expedient on multiple levels. In the project described here, the PI will hire two undergraduate students and mentor them along with a graduate student in order to develop the requisite methodologies to culture and quantify Amoeba in the Naegleria family. Utilizing the bio-safety level-1 (BSL1) laboratory that the PI is currently operating, a non-pathogenic species of Naegleria will be used as a surrogate for Naegleria fowleri, to demonstrate the disinfection potentials of various water treatment processes. The use of a non-pathogenic surrogate here is one key innovation that has not yet been explored or documented in the scientific literature. Local water treatment facilities will be visited and their treatment processes will be assessed for capacity for amoebic disinfection. The PI’s current funding, which include start-up funds from LSU and a Board of Regents’ Research Competitiveness Subprogram grant for the development of photocatalytic disinfection materials, will contribute funding for a graduate student that will mentor the undergraduates; this merging of innovative disinfection techniques with the poorly-studied amoebae represents a second significant innovative approach this project provides. Anticipated outcomes include the establishment of key expertise within the state of Louisiana, the development of methods to measure and assess the effectiveness of amoeba disinfection strategies, and the assessment of local municipalities for their capacity to remove or destroy pathogenic amoebae.