There are six main aims within this research theme:Risk and surveillance. Image: Melbourne Water

1) To develop chemical-genomic detection procedures to assess risk of toxicity and/or T&O production.

Concentration of nuisance/harmful algal cells and their associated toxins and T&O compounds at water bodies can vary by orders of magnitude, leading to progressive accumulation of cells and metabolites in treatment plants even in the absence of a visible bloom at the intake. 

2) To translate fast and high-throughput methods, such as improved qPCR and flow cytometry techniques, into guideline values and risk framework for toxins (for example microcystins, saxitoxins, cylindrospermopsin, anatoxins, b-N-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA), and T&O compounds which include geosmin and MIB).

The toxigenicity of cyanobacterial blooms cannot be determined based solely upon the identification of taxa by light microscopy.  Rapid, cheap and high-throughput methods (such as qPCR) can overcome this limitation, however deriving the full benefit of the resulting data will require an understanding of method uncertainties that pertain to local blooms (e.g. range of probable ploidy levels).

3) To discover other algal T&O compounds beyond geosmin and MIB in water supply systems (drinking water and recycled).

To date, available research work has focussed on only two microbiologically produced T&O compounds: geosmin and 2-methylisoborneol (MIB). In recent years, water utilities in several regions including Australia reported incidents of unpleasant smelly water during treatment and unpleasant tasty and smelly water after treatment, despite the absence of geosmin and MIB. Impacts of climate change, particularly extreme weather effects and changing water supply and recycling practises are thought to be enhancing the growth of nuisance organisms that are potential producers of these Risk and surveillance 2. Image: Melbourne Watercompounds.

4) To develop guidelines and risk frameworks to promote optimal allocation of monitoring and management effort across a diverse asset base.

This research practice will ensure that investment in design of our algal monitoring programs is based upon defensible risk modelling. Australian water authorities and public health agencies are interested in reviewing the basis for algal toxin risk assessment and health advisories. For example, the ratio of toxic and ton-toxic cells, and toxin production per toxic cell (cell quota) are essential information to assess the potential hazard of a bloom event. 

5) To understand the risk posed by ‘non-toxic’ blooms in recreational waters.

Apart from significant concerns regarding the presence of toxins and T&O compounds, presence of cells in high numbers and direct contact with human skin and domestics/wild animals can lead to health issues and even fatality.

6) To investigate the impact of HABs on customers satisfaction and develop social policies required to improve community outreach and change public perception.

Unpleasant taste and odour (T&O) in drinking water is the most significant cause of customers’ complaints. Their presence invokes the perception that water consumption may be unsafe and results in a loss of customer confidence in the utilities' ability to provide safe water. Consumers react very sensitively to changes in the organoleptic quality of drinking water, and T&O events have an immediate effect on consumer confidence.

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