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  • Periodic Report Summary 3 - AQUAVALENS (Protecting the health of Europeans by improving methods for the detection of pathogens in drinking water and water used in food preparation)

Aquavalens Report Summary

Project ID: 311846
Funded under: FP7-KBBE
Country: United Kingdom

Periodic Report Summary 3 - AQUAVALENS (Protecting the health of Europeans by improving methods for the detection of pathogens in drinking water and water used in food preparation)

Project Context and Objectives:
The consortium for the AQUAVALENS project has brought together SMEs, Universities and Research Institutes with the mission of protecting the health of European Citizens from contaminated drinking water and water used in food processing. We are achieving this by developing sustainable technologies to enable water system managers whether in large or small water systems or within food growers or manufacturers, to better control the safety of their water supplies.

Our research work in cluster 1 has generated new knowledge on the molecular genetics of viral, bacterial and parasitic waterborne pathogens. This knowledge has enabled us to identify gene targets to help in the identification, and characterisation of these pathogens. It has also given insights into their virulence for humans. In cluster 2 we have used the knowledge gained to develop or refine new and existing technologies that integrate where possible, pathogen recovery and detection into a single platform. These platforms are currently being subject to a rigorous process of validation and standardisation, to confirm exactly how and when they can help in different types of potable water testing. In cluster 3, we are validating the different platforms in a series of field trials in large and small drinking water systems, and in food production.

These field studies will generate new knowledge about the risk to public health from waterborne pathogens in Europe and also demonstrate the practical value of the technologies for improving the microbiological safety of water for food production and drinking. Finally, in cluster 4, we examining how these technologies can be used to protect human health, though improving the effectiveness of Water Safety Plans, enabling adaptation to climate change, and controlling outbreaks of infectious disease.

In addition to the above programme, we have improved on methods for microbial source tracking to help determine sources of faecal pollution. We are testing various methods of sampling large volumes of different types of water to see how that helps more accurate and effective identification of potential pathogen sources.

It is already clear that we are likely to need a range of tests and methods applicable to drinking water testing, to deal with various applications, source water, treated water for drinking and food production. We are also interested in the application of these technologies in laboratories with different capabilities as well as water management systems which might want on-site or on-line monitoring for treatment and distribution.

Cluster 4, is taking place in Years 4 and 5, will is looking closely at our achievements and examining their implications given the current priorities in drinking water management: Water Safety Plans, climate change, emerging pathogens and diseases, full cost benefit analysis, environmental impact, sustainability and the carbon footprint or carbon neutrality of each proposed method.

We are confident that we will be able to evaluate and apply some of the molecular methods developed recently, to determine their potential in routine testing of drinking water. This should highlight the occurrence, abundance and perhaps even the infectivity of the relevant pathogens that present a risk to individual water supplies and their users.

It is very likely this research will lead to the development of a range of platforms and testing strategies across different matrices that will help to reduce the incidence of water-borne disease and improve the health of Europeans.

Cluster 1 & 2 are complete, Cluster 3 and 4 active.

Project Results:
Cluster 1
WP1 - The project is running on time and to budget. UEA organised 3 international meetings in Lisbon (2015), Cassis (France), and Amsterdam (both in 2016), regular teleconferences, 6 monthly partner payments and improved file-sharing on OneDrive.
WP2 produced robust quantitative molecular systems for detection of health-significant enteric viruses. Methodological modifications enabled better estimation of virus infectivity through molecular assays. Typing tools for these viruses are available.
WP3 developed advanced molecular tools and test kits were developed for the identification and quantification of major waterborne bacterial pathogens which were successfully validated with water samples representing the drinking water supply chain.
WP4 has validated and applied molecular targets for detection and determination of human infectivity potential of the protozoan parasites Cryptosporidium, Giardia and Toxoplasma, and investigated specific targets that might be associated with virulence.
WP5: A number of molecular markers have been identified for microbial source tracking that take account of dilution (4-log units) and environmental persistence (up to 300 hours). They can be used on technical platforms.

WP6 Three filtration methods for concentration of microorganisms from source water and drinking water have been refined and successfully applied by new laboratories, for application in outbreak investigations, for pathogen surveillance and for metagenomic sequencing.
WP7 From the seven different platforms evaluated in WP7, three have been developed to use in the field studies for the rapid detection of faecal pollution, waterborne pathogens and virulence genes.
WP8 is complete, although interns are writing up some journal articles and further developing the automated filtration system, validating it for parasites and getting megasonic elution integrated into the unit.
WP9 Validation studies have showed that the new enrichment and detection methods are useful for rapid detection of bacteria, viruses and protozoa recovered from water.
Cluster 3
WP10 is currently implementing successfully a selected range of developed technologies and protocols at the different demonstration sites, generating microbiological data of process and drinking water across Europe.
WP11 is testing technologies in different small water systems located in Portugal, Scotland and Serbia. Water treatment systems will be installed at certain sites to improve water quality and demonstrate the value brought about by the new technologies.
WP12 is applying the Aquavalens methodologies for the microbiological examination of irrigation and processing water used in fruit and vegetable production, broadening the spectrum of pathogens which can be detected.

Cluster 4
WP13 has been developing the questionnaire and indicators to be able to assess the impact and added value of AQV platforms in relation to Water Safety Plans.
WP14 Ethical clearance obtained for prospective survey of health improvements at certain demonstration sites. Early planning is underway for the scenario planning workshop, otherwise progress is dependent on completion of field study work in Cluster 3.
WP15 Carbon footprint values were calculated for GPS, Ceeram and MicroLAN platforms. Preliminary results from Cluster 3 partners indicate that usage is the major carbon footprint contributor.
WP16: Aquavalens presented at the Health Related Water Microbiology conference (Lisbon, 2015) and Rapid Methods Europe (Amsterdam, 2016), where we organised a themed session of Aquavalens presentations. We have published a total of 52 academic articles, 25 in Period 3.
Pathogen targets for our research
Viruses: Hepatitis A virus, Norovirus, Adenovirus, Hepatitis E virus, Rotavirus, Cosackievirus
Bacteria: Campylobacter jejuni, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Salmonella enterica, Campylobacter coli, Vibrio cholerae, pathogenic Escherichia coli, Arcobacter butzleri
Protozoa: Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Toxoplasma

Potential Impact:
CL1 Validated molecular assays now exist for all pathogens, i.e. viruses, bacteria and parasites, relevant to drinking water. These assays will be of value to those undertaking pathogen testing to improve the safety of drinking water. Some of these assays are now produced as test kits and commercialized by two SME of the AQUAVALENS consortium, quite a significant contribution to the bio-economy of the EU. In addition, novel high resolution genotyping methods for these waterborne pathogens are being developed and validated to provide better surveillance tools to identify sources of outbreaks of water-based infections. These molecular tools are supported by predictive models to track sources of microbial contamination efficiently and rapidly. Many of these tools are ready for mass application in the field trials planned in Cluster 3. The molecular and informatics technologies can be considered a major advancement for public health protection in the EU if their large-scale application in the field trials is successful and provides the expected benchmark data.
The remit of Cluster 2 was to take the work of Cluster 1 in terms of selection, identification and characterisation of pathogens, and develop and refine the technologies related to sampling, enrichment and detection of these pathogens as well as the validation of the systems and protocols used. The cluster has achieved already the performance characterisation of filters and membranes used for concentrating waterborne pathogens from the three kingdoms (virus, bacterium and parasite) using waters of different qualities such as drinking or surface water. Molecular detection techniques have been selected for consideration by members of Cluster 3. Whenever possible or relevant, these filters and detection techniques will be incorporated into automated or/and online systems.
Already, the cluster helped companies such as Vermicon to improve on their own detection techniques, and create a more portable system for the detection of the presence of bacteria. New recovery systems were also demonstrated that allow for resource saving when concentrating samples. Cluster 2 has offered to partners of Cluster 3 a portfolio of solutions and techniques to meet their needs. These technologies enable cheaper, portable or more accurate measurement systems of waterborne pathogens, an important step towards the production and availability of safe drinking water and suitable water for the food industry.
The work of Cluster 3 has taken the technologies of the Aquavalens project from the laboratory out into the field. The three work packages, through their respective partners, have consulted with various end-users responsible for providing safe drinking water, to identify their requirements and ensure a representative range of conditions are available for evaluating the performance of the technologies. A workshop took place to select those technologies that are most suitable for further field study. Very little good data is available on numbers of pathogens in sources of drinking water across Europe. Consequently, the information obtained from the field trials will improve risk assessment and risk management practices and supports member states to implement good practice to ensure the provision of microbiologically safe drinking water.
Aquavalens recognised the need to promote better enforcement of the Drinking Water Directive, especially in relation to small water supplies, serving less than 5,000 people, as they carry greater health risks currently. The work of Cluster 4 will also enable faster testing and for instance products to track and respond to the increased risk due to drought or extreme rainfall. Data and products derived from Aquavalens will enable regulators to form guidelines that will be included in the water safety plans of large and small drinking water companies. This should generate a market for standardised testing platforms developed in Aquavalens for water and for food production.

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