PITA FY2014 Projects

Biomimetic Biofilm Surfaces For In Situ Detection Of Waterborne Contaminants

PI:Kristen Jellison, Civil and Environmental Engineering

University:Lehigh University

Co-PI(s):Bruce Hargreaves, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Industry Affiliate(s):EcoTech Marine
Philadelphia Water Department

Summary:Detection of waterborne contaminants, both freshwater and marine, is of key importance to sustainable development. Many pathogens, pesticides, and other contaminants enter our water supply on a regular basis, and can lead to human health hazards, as well as overall environmental quality decline. As an example, Cryptosporidium is a waterborne parasite responsible for a gastrointestinal disease that can be fatal for immunocompromised individuals. The particular parasite is currently tested for in US water supplies under EPA Method 1622/1623, which relies on filtering and processing 10 L of water, providing a “snapshot” of freshwater conditions at the time of filtration. Oocysts are discrete particles, however, and are often present at very low concentrations, therefore, false negatives are not uncommon. Improved methods of monitoring for Cryptosporidium and other contaminants are therefore needed. To begin examining new ways to monitor for these contaminants, we will focus on Cryptosporidium as a model contaminant, due to previous research by the PI's lab. In prior work, we have shown that Cryptosporidium spp. oocysts are detected in biofilm samples more frequently than filtered water samples, but a critical barrier to the adoption of biofilm sampling for Cryptosporidium monitoring is the inherent variability in biofilm growth, among water bodies and seasons, and the subsequent difficulty in standardizing the sampling approach to provide data that are meaningful to water utilities. To determine the key parameters encouraging selective oocyst attachment to biofilms, we propose to characterize these biofilms chemically and physically, and propose to develop a biomimetic biofilm surface capable of selectively capturing oocysts. These surfaces may then (in future work) be integrated into long-term, in situ, real-time water quality monitoring devices. The ultimate goal is the adoption of these devices into the EPA-approved testing methodology for Cryptosporidium and other contaminants (to be studied in future work).