Lara's latest publication is a product of her pre-Gemmell lab arrival research. As she explains, the river Cam, which flows through the city of Cambridge, UK, is a hotspot for swimmers, rowers and kayakers, many of whom develop waterborne infections caused by the bacteria found in the river.
A team of researchers from EMBL's European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) and the University of Cambridge led by Lara have shown that portable DNA sequencing can easily monitor bacterial species in a river ecosystem. They used a smartphone-sized DNA sequencing device to monitor water samples taken from nine locations on the river Cam. Alongside many harmless bacteria, they also found several pathogenic species.
Lara and her colleagues found that potentially harmful and wastewater-related bacteria strongly increased downstream of the most urbanised river sections.One example is Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a bacterium that can cause disease in plants and animals, including humans, varying from pneumonia to sepsis syndromes. They also identified the well-known Leptospira bacterium, which can cause the life-threatening disease leptospirosis. However, the Leptospira species found on this occasion were most likely not pathogenic. The full results of the research have been published in the journal eLife.
“In our study, we report a simple, cost-effective workflow to assess and monitor microbial freshwater ecosystems with targeted nanopore DNA sequencing,” says Lara."This study design has allowed us to provide real transparency on important local questions of public health, with a very exciting new technology. We believe this method could be useful for public health, local authorities, and researchers studying waterborne diseases around the world.”
Awesome job, Lara!