Using DNA methods to improve water systems

Opportunistic pathogens in potable and industrial water systems have become a bigger issue in the age of COVID-19, because interruptions in service can lead to bacteria growing in stagnant water sitting in pipes. Senior environmental engineer Ali Ling recently co-authored an article about using DNA-based microbial ecology techniques to improve the understanding and operation of cooling and potable water systems for the water-treatment-industry publication The Analyst.

The article covers a number of DNA-based methods to characterize microbial communities as well as specific pathogens and metabolic activities within water systems. This includes 16S/18S rRNA amplicon sequencing, which is a fingerprinting technique that characterizes nearly all the microbial groups present in a sample and can be used to track changes in microbiology over time. It also addresses and describes quantitative PCR (qPCR), which can be used to track specific pathogens, types of fecal contamination, nutrient cycling genes, and other specific genes.

Barr can help clients understand the microbial ecology of environmental and engineered systems to improve management and outcomes. For an example of this work, click here.

Click here to read Ali’s article. The article was originally published in the Fall 2021 issue of The Analyst. Permission to use the article was granted by the Association of Water Technologies. For more information, please visit


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