Assessing the public health relevance of Vibrio cholerae in bathing waters in Lower Austria: distribution, abundance, diversity and potential pathogenicity
- Project Number: SC19-006
- Project Lead: Alexander Kirschner, Karl Landsteiner University of Health Sciences / Division of Water Quality and Health
- Duration: 36 months starting from 01.04.2020
Vibrio cholerae is a natural inhabitant of aquatic ecosystems and the causative agent of the devastating disease cholera. Cholera is caused by toxigenic strains belonging to the serogroups O1 and O139. However nontoxigenic V.cholerae (NTVC) cause several other kinds of infections with potential fatal outcome. In the past 20 years, NTVC infections have been significantly increasing in Europe in association with global warming. In Lower Austria, two extreme cases occurred for the first time in 2015. Both cases were associated with bathing activities during an extreme summer heatwave. To date, the decisive factors controlling NTVC occurrence in inland bathing waters are not clear.
Such information and the availability of reliable NTVC quantification methods are prerequisite to enable prediction models and early warning systems of NTVC occurrence. Besides cultivation on microbiological media, molecular and cell-based methods have been developed. So far, cell-based detection combining fluorescence labelling (FISH) and solid phase cytometry (SPC) proved most successful for NTVC quantification. However, FISH/SPC does not differentiate V.cholerae from closely related species, and it is extremely labor intensive and expensive. In this project, an approach based on alternative molecular recognition molecules –APTAMERS– are proposed. Aptamers are short oligonucleotides that bind their target with high selectivity and affinity. They have proven equally efficient as antibodies in many applications. Once an aptamer is identified, unlimited amounts can be produced at low costs. To date, however, there are no aptamers available for V.cholerae.
Two main goals shall be achieved. First, NTVC abundance shall be comprehensively monitored with state-of-the-art methods along environmental and spatiotemporal gradients in representative bathing waters, and second, a new cutting-edge aptamer technology shall be developed for tailored quantification of NTVC and V.cholerae O1/O139. Prediction models of NTVC abundance in bathing waters shall be delivered as tools for risk assessment and easy protocols for culture-independent quantification of V.cholerae. This will significantly contribute to improved disease preparedness and public health concerning NTVC in bathing waters and toxigenic V.cholerae in water resources. The resulting aptamer products, applications and intellectual property may be exploited in follow-up translational projects, in form of spin-off companies or transfer to local third-party enterprises. The proposal is directly contributing to the prioritised research area “Intelligent Indication Systems and Diagnostics” within the recent FTI strategy for Lower Austria. Sustainable collaborations will be stimulated between the project partners within the Interuniversity Cooperation Centre Water & Health, a research centre to pioneer cutting edge water quality research. Thus, the project will contribute in a sustainable manner to the welfare of Lower Austria.