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James Hutton Institute helps improve drinking water safety in Europe

Water running down a plughole
We are very pleased to bring some of Scotland’s developing water protection techniques and knowledge into this prestigious mix of European scientists and water managers.

The James Hutton Institute is taking part in a €9 million EU-funded research project launched today to improve the safety of European drinking water. Led by the University of East Anglia (UEA), the five-year Aquavalens project will develop and apply more rapid methods of detecting viruses, bacteria and parasites in water before they can make people sick.

Consortium partners include small businesses, industries, universities and research institutes from 13 countries. The project is funded by the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme.

Lead researcher Professor Paul Hunter from UEA’s Norwich Medical School said: “With the technologies we currently have it can take two or more days to identify infectious risks in drinking water and by then the affected water is likely to have been consumed. This project will develop more rapid methods so that problems can be identified earlier. It will prevent people becoming sick by stopping them drinking contaminated water.”

Dr Lisa Avery, environmental microbiologist at the James Hutton Institute, will lead the institute’s contribution to the project. She commented: “We are very pleased to bring some of Scotland’s developing water protection techniques and knowledge into this prestigious mix of European scientists and water managers.

"Health problems associated with contaminated waters and water-related food processing are a real risk to many people daily. Hence, this knowledge sharing within our working group and with industry and the public is likely to make some real impact in human health protection.

"Our role at the James Hutton Institute is the characterisation of the range of waters across large municipal water treatment systems, private supplies, bottled waters or irrigation waters for food crops to enable the overall project to make decisions about how best to target our new techniques at the European scale.”

The project has four main phases. The first phase will focus on cutting edge science and genome research on the microbes that cause disease through drinking water, such as Cryptosporidium, Campylobacter and Norovirus; while the second phase will develop and apply state-of-the-art technologies to detect these agents in water such as gene probes, nano-technologies and bio-sensors.

In the third phase, new technologies will be used to test the safety of European drinking water in large water utilities, small private supplies and in the food industry. The fourth and final phase will focus on understanding how these technologies can be integrated into existing practices to protect the health and safety of people in Europe from the threats of water contamination including those associated with environmental change.

Throughout the project, close cooperation will be maintained with biotechnology companies, water providers and food producers so that new technologies will meet real needs and find strong markets. Links with national and international government agencies such as the European Commission and the World Health Organization will ensure that the project’s findings will influence European policy.

Around 330,000 cases of water-related disease such as E.coli and the Norovirus are reported yearly in Europe according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Between 2000 and 2007 there were 354 outbreaks of waterborne diseases across 14 countries. Symptoms include diarrhoea, vomiting, stomach pains, nausea, headache and fever.

Notes for editors

Aquavalens is a European consortium involving industry, universities and research institutes with the mission of protecting the health of European citizens from contaminated drinking water and water used in food processing. Further information about the project and the project partners can be found at www.aquavalens.org.

The James Hutton Institute is a world-leading, multi-site scientific organisation encompassing a distinctive range of integrated strengths in land, crop, waters, environmental and socio-economic science. It undertakes research for customers including the Scottish and UK Governments, the EU and other organisations worldwide. The institute has a staff of nearly 600 and 125 PhD students.

The James Hutton Institute operates commercial subsidiaries. Macaulay Scientific Consulting (MSC) Ltd is a leading environmental consultancy centre offering unparalleled experience in soil and water consultancy, and land evaluation. Mylnefield Research Services (MRS) Ltd undertakes contract research, especially plant breeding, licenses plant varieties internationally and delivers analytical services.

The University of East Anglia (UEA) is based in Norwich, UK. It was founded in 1963 and this year celebrates its 50th anniversary. It has played a significant role in advancing human understanding and in 2012 the Times Higher Education ranked UEA as one of the 10 best universities in the world under 50 years of age. The university has graduated more than 100,000 students, attracted to Norwich Research Park some of Britain’s key research institutes and a major University Hospital, and made a powerful cultural, social and economic impact on the region.

UEA’s Norwich Medical School has a reputation for exciting and innovative approaches to education, supported by a strong and rapidly developing research programme. Around 90 per cent of UEA research was rated internationally excellent in the last Research Assessment Exercise, with over 50 per cent ‘world leading’.

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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.