Lecture offers a glimpse into water quality expert’s research

Water microbiology expert Joan B. Rose has devoted her career to answering three questions: How is water quality changing? What effect do these changes have on human health? And how can the latest technology help explore the water environment and address the challenges presented by changing water quality?

Rose, who holds the Homer Nowlin Chair in Water Research at Michigan State University, gave the Georgia Power College of Public Health Endowed Seminar in Environmental Topics Oct. 21 as part of the fall 2016 Signature Lecture series.

“Starting in about the 1950s and 1960s, we began to see dramatic change in our world, which included a marked acceleration in population growth, the development of land for agricultural purposes and the use of pesticides and fertilizers,” Rose said. “Those changes inevitably affected the water supply, and now we’re living in a…very different water environment.”

One of the most recent ­examples of how the water ­environment affects human health is the Flint, Michigan, water crisis, which exposed thousands of people to high levels of lead when the city switched its water source. The water sickened many residents and may have been the source of an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease.

“Perhaps we should be more embarrassed and more ashamed of allowing something like [the crisis in] Flint, Michigan, to happen in this day and age in the United States,” Rose said. “But it turns out there’s probably a lot of small, poor communities, particularly in the Southeast—and I’ve already heard from communities in Mississippi and other places—that are experiencing some problems similar to [what happened in] Flint.”

Rose uses metagenomics, which involves analyzing genetic material found in the environment, to analyze the water microbiome.

“This technology offers the ability to better assess water systems and their effects on human, animal and environmental health,” she said. “The world desperately needs to solve water-­contamination issues in the future.”

Read the original article in the Nov. 7, 2016 issue of Columns.