Volume XXV Number 1
Photo by Kendall Reeves
Water, Water Everywhere
Safeguarding the public water supply has been an increasing concern for public health and safety officials since the events of September 11, 2001. But threats to drinking water--not from terrorists, but from naturally occurring microorganisms--have existed since well before that date.
In particular, Cryptosporidium, a genus parasite commonly found in surface water, can have serious and far-reaching health consequences when it makes its way into drinking water. A 1993 Crypto outbreak in Milwaukee affected almost half a million people, causing 100 or more deaths. At highest risk are the elderly, the very young, and those with weakened immune systems.
But if Indiana University Kokomo biology professor Christian Chauret has his way, Cryptosporidium will be far less of a threat in the future. Chauret is working on several projects aimed at providing a better understanding of Crypto and of how to prevent further outbreaks.
"Chlorine doesn't kill Cryptosporidium," explains Chauret. "Water treatment plants must use filtration systems to control it in drinking water.
"When filtration fails," he says, "you can run into big problems."
Would another type of disinfectant, other than chlorine, work better? One of Chauret's projects, funded with a grant from the Chlorine Institute as well as a grant from IU's Intercampus Research Fund, is exploring whether chlorine dioxide, ozone, ultraviolet radiation, or another method might be more effective in killing a particular species of the pathogen, C. parvum.
"It seems that chlorine does not diffuse through the oocyst, the dispersal phase of C. parvum, because of a wall or envelope that surrounds it," says Chauret. "Using microscopic techniques, we can test alternate disinfection methods, to see if we have damaged the envelope."
Chauret has teamed with IU Bloomington biologist and research associate Barry Stein for the project, and he regularly travels to Bloomington to use high-tech microscopy equipment available on the main campus. For another project, exploring the effect of water quality on turtles, Chauret is working with his IUK colleague Michael Finkler. Chauret believes the design and facilities of Virgil and Elizabeth Hunt Hall will make such intra-institutional collaborations more common in the future. "It's much better organized," he says. "It lets us be better organized, too."
The new facility also allows Chauret to focus on another of his priorities: involving IUK students in his research. "I can now have three or four students working with me when I used to have only one or two," he says. "It has opened the door of my lab even further for students."
That's important pedagogically, to be sure, but also practically, believes Chauret, who has presented his work at more than 45 conferences and meetings, been an invited speaker in the United States and abroad, and published two books and "I'm more productive now," he says. "I'm getting much more done."