Blue Sky Initiative - Remaking Water Infrastructure
Remaking water infrastructure by focusing on microbial biomes: Actionable science by linking microbial biomes across water infrastructure, natural water, and humans
By managing microbial biomes in the water systems in our cities, scientists can harness their beneficial roles and reduce human health risks.
Microbial biomes – also known as microbiomes – are complex collections of thousands of different kinds of bacteria, viruses and protozoa that work together to influence their environments. Microbiomes exist within our bodies, but also are important in natural waters like lakes and rivers, and in urban water systems including in water treatment plants, in water distribution systems and in our home plumbing. Scientists don’t know how these different microbiomes interact. As water infrastructure ages, the human population continues to grow, and extreme weather taxes urban systems, it’s increasingly important to understand and predict those interactions to harness their benefits and prevent harm.
The research will develop novel sensors that will gather microbiome data, including DNA sequences, in real time. These sensors will be strategically placed across water systems in cities and the data collected will be used to help guide water treatment and distribution decisions. Raskin envisions several outcomes of understanding the broader water microbiomes and using real-time data to manage them: The growth of beneficial microbes that control disease causing microbes could be promoted in water similar to the concept of probiotics in yogurt. Or hospitals or industries could divert their waste streams into separate treatment systems when they are releasing high levels of pharmaceuticals or antibiotic resistance genes rather than sending them to a city’s central treatment plant.
The project could address serious concerns linked to water infrastructure failures like the outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease during the Flint water crisis and infectious diseases associated with sewage exposure following hurricanes in Texas and Puerto Rico. The urgency of the topic, and the potential for additional funding from outside sources, add to the relevancy of the project.
U-M College of Engineering Research Team:
- Lutgarde Raskin – Altarum/ERIM Russell D O’Neal Professor of Engineering and Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering
- Herek Clack – Research Associate Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering and Lecturer IV in Civil and Environmental Engineering
- Glen Daigger – Professor of Engineering Practice, Civil and Environmental Engineering
- Seth Guikema – Associate Professor of Industrial and Operations Engineering and Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering
- Branko Kerkez – Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering
- Nancy Love – Borchardt and Glysson Collegiate Professor and Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering
- Terese Olson – Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering
- Steven Skerlos – Arthur F Thurnau Professor, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Director, Center for Socially Engaged Design, CoE Undergraduate Education
- Krista Wigginton – Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Core U-M Collaborators:
- Gregory Dick – Associate Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Associate Chair, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and Associate Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts
- Melissa Duhaime – Assistant Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts
- Rebecca Hardin – Associate Professor of Natural Resources, School for Environment and Sustainability
- Lisa Lattuca – Professor of Integrative Systems and Design and Professor of Education, School of Education
- Maria Carmen Lemos – Professor of Environment and Sustainability and Associate Dean for Research, School for Environment and Sustainability
- John LiPuma -James L Wilson M. D. Research Professor of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases, Associate Chair, Department of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases and Professor of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases, Medical School
- Thomas Schmidt – Professor of Internal Medicine, Professor of Microbiology and Immunology, Medical School and Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts
In addition to these U-M researchers, collaborators from Northeastern University, the University of Wisconsin, Michigan State University, and the University of Puerto Rico will be engaged in this research.