Sunday, July 24, 2016

Water "Biome"-A peep into the world of bacteria in water and its significance

Water borne diseases are known to cause havoc in human society since long and some of the diseases caused by them can prove to be fatal. It is this concern which is driving an entire industry called water purification industry that offers many technologies and equipment for supposedly making water potable. A new study questions the rationale of such an approach in using chemicals to purify water and hypotheses that natural water supply containing millions of bacteria is capable of purifying itself needing no elaborate treatment through intervention of any technology. It sounds crazy and may even be scary to believe such a claim though scientists may have their own rationale to come out with such a finding. In today's world even a child may not accept untreated water from a tap as is the case in most parts of India because of fear of serious diseases like cholera, dysentery and jaundice. The report of a scientific group on this issue can be seen below and it is very difficult to understand the logic of such an argument. 

"A glass of clean drinking water actually contains 10 million bacteria. But that is how it should be - clean tap water always contains harmless bacteria, researchers said. These bacteria and other microbes grow in the drinking water treatment plant and on the inside of our water pipes, which can be seen in the form of a thin, sticky coating - a so-called biofilm. All surfaces from the raw water intake to the tap are covered in this biofilm. These findings show that the diversity of species of bacteria in water pipes is huge, and that bacteria may play a larger role than previously thought. Among other things, the researchers suspect that a large part of water purification takes place in the pipes and not only in water purification plants. "A previously completely unknown ecosystem has revealed itself to us. Formerly, you could hardly see any bacteria at all and now, thanks to techniques such as massive DNA sequencing and flow cytometry, we suddenly see eighty thousand bacteria per millilitre in drinking water," said Catherine Paul from Lund University in Sweden. At least a couple of thousand different species live in the water pipes. According to the researchers there is a connection between the composition of bacteria and water quality. "We suspect there are 'good' bacteria that help purify the water and keep it safe- similar to what happens in our bodies. Our intestines are full of bacteria, and most of the time when we are healthy, they help us digest our food and fight illness," said Paul. Although the research was conducted in southern Sweden, bacteria and biofilms are found all over the world, in plumbing, taps and water pipes. This knowledge will be very useful for countries when updating and improving their water pipe systems, researchers said. "The hope is that we eventually may be able to control the composition and quality of water in the water supply to steer the growth of 'good' bacteria that can help purify the water even more efficiently than today," said Paul.

Though most people to day, educated on a staple diet of science may question the logic of the above findings, anecdotal episodes regarding millions of people in India living healthy by drinking water from natural resources in village area defies our understanding. In most metropolitan regions, it is hardly possible to find any people without a bottle of packed water in their hands because of the common perception that municipal water supply cannot be trusted for its safety. Under such a contradictory scenario what to believe or where lies the truth defy an answer.  Are we to believe that the multibillion dollar water purification industry has been taking us for a ride for decades by insisting on installing domestic purifiers or the large scale urban water purification systems working across the world are redundant?  Why is that health experts advise people to boil water before consumption? If the water pipes, storage tanks and water taps have biofilms of friendly bacteria, where is the need for any elaborate processing to make such waters potable? WHO of UNO must intervene to make the record straight for common man across the world to adopt a living practice that ensures safe water for drinking.


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