The role of free-living amoeba in the fate and transport of multi-drug resistant bacteria in drinking water systems

PI: Kristen Jellison

Co-PI(s): Sabrina Jedlicka

University: Lehigh University

Industry partner: Lehigh County Authority, City of Bethlehem Water Lab

This project seeks to understand the impact of free-living amoebae (FLA) on the fate and transport of pathogenic bacteria in drinking water systems. FLA are ubiquitous protozoa found in the environment that can survive under harsh environmental conditions, such as those typically found in water treatment facilities. Some bacteria can survive, and even grow, inside FLA; one such bacteria of concern is Stenotrophomonas maltophilia, a multi-drug resistant environmental pathogen that has been associated with hospital-acquired infections. The proposed work will identify the species of FLA in local water treatment networks in the Lehigh Valley and investigate the role of FLA in the ecology of S. maltophilia, including S. maltophilia growth and survival in the presence of harsh environmental conditions. Water samples will be collected at various locations throughout the water treatment process and distribution network to understand how effectively the most common treatment technologies remove or inactivate FLA and S. maltophilia. 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. This work will inform best practices for managing drinking water systems to improve finished water quality and protect public health.