A research team from the University of Sheffield’s Faculty of Engineering made it their mission to study four bacteria known to exist in the city’s drinking water to in order to determine how to best keep the water supply safe while also limiting the need for chemical treatments.
Their research involved biofilms – typically benign bacteria. They usually form on water pipes and present no problem but they can harbor harmful bacteria like Escherichia coli or Legionella. If these bacteria grown rapidly and become too heavy, they can break off into the water flow. Discolored or unpleasant tasting water is often a sign of some type of bacterial presence. At worst, the bacteria can be deadly.
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council funded the study. It focused on four bacteria taken from domestic taps. Two of the bacteria were widely found in drinking water everywhere, while one was less common, and was entirely unique to Sheffield. Scientists then created different combinations of the bacteria and discovered that when isolated, none of the bacteria created a biofilm. However, when combined with Methylobacterium, a common bacterium, they formed a biofilm within 72 hours.
The bacterium acts as a bridge and allows other bacteria to attach to surfaces. Based on this finding, experts believe it might be possible to either reduce or eliminate biofilms in the water which would reduce the need for high doses of chemicals.