Study shows large ecosystem diversity in water pipes

Dec. 18, 2015

At least two thousand species of microbes may play a large role in water purification.

LUND, Sweden — Dec. 16, 2015 — Researchers from the division of Applied Microbiology and Water Resources Engineering at Lund University found that bacteria in water pipes may play a larger role in water purification, according to a press release.

Bacteria and other microbes grow in drinking water treatment plants and inside water pipes, noted the release. Their presence can be evident in the formation of a biofilm — a thin, sticky coating that covers surfaces from the raw water intake to the tap.

With the significant species diversity of bacteria in water pipes, the findings indicate that water purification may largely take part in pipes and not only in water purification plants, stated the release. At least two thousand different species may live in water pipes. Researchers say a connection exists between the bacteria composition and water quality.

“A previously completely unknown ecosystem has revealed itself to us. Formerly, you could hardly see any bacteria at all and now, thanks to techniques such as massive DNA sequencing and flow cytometry, we suddenly see eighty thousand bacteria per milliliter in drinking water,” said researcher Catherine Paul in the release.

The research team consisted of Katharina Lührig, Catherine Paul, professors Peter Rådström and Kenneth Persson, and colleagues Björn Canbäck and Tomas Johansson, reported the release. The findings were published in the journal Microbes and Environments.

View a video about the research.

“We suspect there are ‘good’ bacteria that help purify the water and keep it safe — similar to what happens in our bodies. Our intestines are full of bacteria, and most the time when we are healthy, they help us digest our food and fight illness,” shared Paul in the release.

The study was conducted in southern Sweden, but bacteria and biofilms are found worldwide in pipes, shared the release. The research has global implications for countries when upgrading and improving water infrastructure.

“The hope is that we eventually may be able to control the composition and quality of water in the water supply to steer the growth of ‘good’ bacteria that can help purify the water even more efficiently than today," added Paul in the release.

You can find the entire release here.