Water Education - Water Quality

CAN GENETIC MUTATIONS OF MICROBES THAT LIVE IN WATER RESULT IN NEW PATHOGENS FROM SOURCE WATERS USED FOR DRINKING?

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One thing that can be stated about microbes, and in general, about the life unseen around us...is that it is always adapting. So yes, the potential is always there.

Just as a baby changes slowly into a toddler, living organisms are constantly changing to adapt to their environment. These changes are called mutations. Since a single microorganism can multiply into billions in a day’s time or less, they have great adaptive ability.

Bacteria constitute the most successful form of life in environmental habitats. The main reason for this success is phenotypic plasticity. It is the ability of a bacterial genotype to respond phenotypically to environmental stimuli, rather than the power of its genetic repertoire, that has produced the extensive development of bacteria. A general phenotypic strategy has little by little become apparent in many bacterial strains, as we have come to understand more of the lifestyle that these organisms are able to adopt in response to changing growth conditions.

Another concern in drinking water is the rise of old diseases in combination with new biotechnology methods, leaving the possibility for new, and as of yet, not researched combinations of bacteria. According to the 1996 WHO Report, the world is heading for a major crisis in public health as outbreaks of new and re-emerging infectious diseases are striking at increasing frequencies within the past 10 to 15 years. The current strains of pathogens are moreover, resistant to known treatments; some strains being resistant to all or nearly all drugs and antibiotics. Horizontal gene transfer is now generally recognized to be responsible for the evolution of virulence and the spread of drug and antibiotic resistances. Many pathogens have crossed species barriers, having acquired genes from phylogenetically distant species that are involved in their ability to cause diseases. Recent findings document the extremely wide scope of horizontal gene transfer and the extensive recombination between genetic material from unrelated species that have contributed to the emergence of virulence and antibiotic resistances. The past 15 years coincide with the development of genetic engineering biotechnology on a commercial scale. Genetic engineering depends on designing vectors for cloning and transferring genes and involves artificially recombining and manipulating genes from unrelated species and their viral pathogens, thereby enhancing the probability for horizontal gene transfer and recombination.

Recent studies indicate that common protozoa and bacteria that line in water, without the influence of bioengineering, have tremendous adaptive potential due to mutations. When their environment changes, even inactive genes may become active, resulting in new characteristics. Therefore, if source water quality is allowed to deteriorate, common microbes previously considered harmless, may become pathogenic due to adaptive mutations.