AWQC releases ultimate guide to waterborne pathogens

Out with the old, and in with the new. Did you know, next generation sequencing (NGS) and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) DNA testing techniques are capable of identifying 95 per cent of the bacteria in a single sample, compared with traditional methodologies where less than 2 per cent of bacteria can be cultured and identified?

The application of advanced NGS by the Australian Water Quality Centre (AWQC) is forging a new path for water quality management and the protection of public health, and the specialist laboratory has now released an informative guide on how the technology is underpinning the latest innovations in molecular testing.

Through decades of experience studying water quality, AWQC’s expert scientists have curated the most extensive DNA database of waterborne pathogens in Australia, which has informed key insights within The ultimate guide to molecular testing for waterborne pathogens.

Waterborne pathogens are a major public health concern worldwide, with the potential to cause severe illness or death, and require costly prevention and treatment.

AWQC’s Senior Manager of Laboratory Services Karen Simpson said it was important to champion the industry’s collaborative spirit and share knowledge for the benefit of public health.

“We have some of the most stringent water quality guidelines in Australia, and community trust in the supply of safe, clean drinking water by the country’s water utilities is high, however, the risk of contamination is ever-present,” Karen said.

“Our scientists are on the front line every day safeguarding your water sources and monitoring the effectiveness of protective barriers designed to prevent the entry and transmission of pathogens into these vital systems.

“Water is central to our social fabric, economic growth and public health, and that’s why it’s important to share our experience and insights with our partners to expand industry knowledge and inform strategies underpinning water quality monitoring, processes and treatment.

“Robust assessments of pathogens and implementing cutting-edge molecular testing are key to understanding water contamination risks and preventing waterborne disease outbreaks.

“Our guide explores limitations of current microscopy and culture-based testing methods, the latest innovations in DNA testing and the diverse applications for molecular testing, and it’s packed with key learnings to help enhance water quality management.”

While millions of Australians turn on the tap every day without much thought, waterborne diseases remain a global concern and cause an estimated 2.2 million deaths per year.

Drinking water contaminants are largely linked to human or animal excreta, and the pathogenic microorganisms contained in faeces include protozoa and bacteria such as E. coli, which can cause a range of diseases varying in severity from mild gastroenteritis to severe and sometimes fatal diarrhoea, dysentery, hepatitis, cholera or typhoid fever.

Certain cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) can produce toxic algal blooms that affect humans, and the toxins may remain in the water even when the organisms responsible have been removed.

Ms Simpson said the innovative NGS technology has elevated the laboratory’s testing methodologies.

“The rapid evolution of NGS technology has revolutionised biological sciences and to be the first water quality lab in Australia to adopt it for water quality management is a testament to our scientists’ visionary expertise,” Karen said.

“Through two state-of-the-art instruments, the ION Chef and ION S5, we’re able to create DNA chips and unique barcodes for organisms found in water samples in a far more efficient and cost-effective manner than traditional testing methods.

“Our advanced NGS DNA testing methods are optimising microbiological testing and analysis, enabling water utilities to significantly reduce the number of potential impacts from waterborne pathogens by implementing rapid, targeted responses to contaminants, supported by more detailed and reliable information.

“We’re proud to be working together with Australian water utilities to provide unrivalled molecular testing, helping protect your critical drinking water systems and importantly, the health of communities.”

AWQC offers a full suite of molecular analyses for targeting input from animal sources into source water to treated water, which include E. coli host and capsule detection, faecal source tracking for human and animal sources, rapid toxin gene detection, complete bacterial diversity profiling and whole genome sequencing.

Access your free copy of AWQC’s The ultimate guide to molecular testing for waterborne pathogens here.