A research project will utilise the fact-finding capabilities of the little known water flea to gather information on the levels of pollutants in freshwater areas, with the aim being to develop an advanced detection system to indicate the presence of toxins in the water before they reach irreversible levels
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A ground-breaking new research project will utilise the fact-finding capabilities of the little known water flea to gather information on the levels of pollutants in freshwater areas. The aim is to develop an advanced detection system to indicate the presence of toxins in the water before they reach irreversible levels.

Lead researcher Dr Konstantinos Grintzalis from DCU’s School of Biotechnology is spearheading the €425,000 project which he describes as a “preventative approach” to managing and detecting pollution.

Detection of chemicals, metals or other pollutants


Traditionally pollution assessment has relied on the detection of chemicals, metals or other pollutants or on monitoring an abundance of species in the ecosystem and comparing these measurements with water standards.

However, all of these approaches are limited in sensitivity and fail to explain in detail the mechanisms of pollutants on the water. Crucially, they are also not able to predict the presence of pollutants early enough.

The water flea known as the Daphnia magna is commonly found in lakes and shallow ponds and it is anticipated it possesses greater sensitivity to detecting pollutants and to providing an insight into how these pollutants react and develop in the water.

“By using a combination of studying species, used as bio-indicators with novel molecular approaches, that help us understand the mechanisms in the action of pollutants, it can assist in helping us identify pollution, before it reaches irreversible levels,” said Dr Gkrintzalis.

The project ‘Assessment of impacts of pollutants and novel materials in freshwater ecosystems to better understand them before they reach precarious levels’ was recently awarded funding by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) under their Starting Investigator Research Grant (SIRG).

‘Gather information at a far greater depth and sensitivity’


“The water flea is important because of its ability to gather information at a far greater depth and sensitivity. We will expose it to different chemicals to collect molecular signatures which I will then compare with signatures collected from fleas exposed to actual water samples from the field,” he said.

“This is important because these measurements are far more sensitive and specific for each chemical, and could predict pollution before it reaches precarious levels, which current approaches are unable to do.”

The most recent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report published in November 2017 found there was a three per cent decline in the quality of Irish waters overall. While it acknowledged that the quality of water had improved in 197 sampled areas, it also highlighted that quality levels had decreased in 269 areas.

The report, which was the first of its kind in over a decade examined water quality in rivers, lakes, estuaries, coastal waters, beaches, and ground waters between 2015 and 2017. At present there are only 30 water areas deemed to be of pristine quality in contrast to more than 500 in the 1980s.

Impact of human actions on ecosystem


“In light of global population increases and the impact of human actions on the ecosystem, it has become imperative to monitor and safeguard the environment,” said Dr Gkrintzalis.

“Dr Gkrintzalis represents the next generation of talented Principal Investigators at DCU that are driving innovative, new and impactful research programmes.

“The awarding of this SFI SIRG award to Dr Gkrintzalis supports the future of our life science strategy and acknowledges the global significance of investing in water research that is fully support by the School of Biotechnology and DCU’s Water Institute,” said Dr Anne Parle-McDermott, head of the School of Biotechnology at DCU.

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A ground-breaking new research project will utilise the fact-finding capabilities of the little known water flea to gather information on the levels of pollutants in freshwater areas. The aim is to develop an advanced detection system to indicate the presence of toxins in the water before they reach irreversible...