PI: Kristen Jellison
Co-PIs: Sabrina Jedlicka
University: Lehigh University

Free-living amoebae (FLA) are ubiquitous protozoa found in the environment that can survive under harsh environmental conditions, such as those typically found in water treatment facilities. Certain bacteria can survive, and even grow, inside FLA; one such bacteria of concern is Stenotrophomonas maltophilia, an environmental pathogen that has been recovered from soil, rivers, lakes, and plant roots, as well as bottled water and sink drains. It is a multi-drug resistant bacteria that has been associated with infections in immunocompromised people, especially in hospitals.

The goal of this project is to study and identify the species of FLA in local water treatment networks in the Lehigh Valley, as well as to determine if, and to what extent, S. maltophilia is harbored by those FLA. Water samples will be collected at different stages of the water treatment process to understand how effectively the most common treatment technologies remove or inactivate the FLA and S. maltophilia. Samples will also be collected from locations throughout the water distribution network, including at hospitals, medical facilities, and private residences, as well as finished water holding tanks.

Once the most common FLA in our local water treatment networks are identified, we will begin laboratory testing to study how these FLA enhance the growth of S. maltophilia as well as how the FLA trophozoites and cysts protect S. maltophilia from hostile environmental conditions and water treatment technologies.