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Applied Microbiology

Drinking water is produced by an ecosystem

PhD candidate Sandy Chan sampling infiltration ponds at Vombverket. Photo taken by Catherine Paul.

While often regarded as a human built construction of concrete and pipes, a drinking water distribution system is also a complex and dynamic niche for thousands of microorganisms. Some, if not all, of these microbes may participate in transforming the surface water obtained from Swedish lakes and via the water treatment plant, arrives as the drinking water in our taps. Surprisingly, very little is known about how this microbial ecosystem service carries out its vital task. Who is removing the organic carbon from the water? Where do the different organisms come from? Are they contributing to the rusting of the pipe infrastructure? Could disease causing organisms hide in the biofilms? Or are the microbes actually able to protect the drinking water until it flows out of our taps? If we can answer these, and other, questions we can ensure that drinking water production continues to deliver safe, high quality water and at the same time we can begin to study how factors such as contamination or climate change could affect this ecosystem service provided by the microbes.

An ongoing cooperation between Applied Microbiology (Department of Chemistry, Lund University), Water Resources Engineering (Department of Building and Environmental Technology, Lund University) and Sydvatten AB (Lund) has been examining the drinking water biofilms formed in pipes and water meters in southern Skåne. Current research is financially supported by Svenskt Vatten Utveckling, NSVA (Nordvästra Skånes Vatten och Avlopp AB), VA SYD och Sydvatten AB. In November 2013, the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskåprådet) awarded 2.2 million SEK to expand the research to include looking at biofilms within the drinking water treatment process. Click the recent video of Catherine Paul about Our drinking water contains millions of "good" bacteria.

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