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Making Your Water Safer to Drink

CEE Assistant Professor Ameet Pinto is researching how to make your water safer to drink by focusing on the role of microbial organisms in drinking water and how they continue to survive today’s exhaustive water treatment processes.


Source: News at Northeastern

Drinking water has been at the fore­front of the public con­scious in recent months, with con­t­a­m­i­na­tion crises in Flint, Michigan, Ver­mont, and upstate New York ren­dering water there unsafe to consume.

Fac­ulty member Ameet Pinto, assis­tant pro­fessor in the Depart­ment of Civil and Envi­ron­mental Engi­neering, is working to make drinking water even safer.

“Every liter of drinking water has 1 mil­lion to 100 mil­lion micro­bial cells in it,” Pinto explained. “It is still smaller than bac­teria that might be in our food or asso­ci­ated with our bodies, but it is a com­po­nent that has not been looked at very vigorously.”

Pinto arrived on campus in Jan­uary and brought with him a curiosity about the under­lying mech­a­nisms that allow these treatment-​​resistant micro­bial com­mu­ni­ties to per­sist. He uses DNA sequencing to gather infor­ma­tion about entire genomes and aims to design treat­ments to better manage the bac­teria so they does not pose a threat to public health.

“One appli­ca­tion that can come from this is if the organ­isms are already there, can we ben­efit from them in some way,” Pinto said. “And are there sus­tain­able processes we can imple­ment to exploit the already-​​present biology.”

Pinto began his under­grad­uate career studying chem­ical engi­neering, but a class in envi­ron­mental pol­lu­tion and con­trol engi­neering inspired him to shift his focus toward envi­ron­mental studies. From there he studied waste­water man­age­ment, even­tu­ally iden­ti­fying a void in the water treat­ment field in terms of uti­lizing biology present in water.

“On the waste­water side we exploit biology. It is cen­tral to the process,” Pinto said. “And on the drinking water side most of the effort goes toward removing bac­teria. So when I made this tran­si­tion, I felt there was a sys­tem­atic dif­fer­ence in how things were per­ceived and what moti­vated people. There was not a lot of work done in terms of exploiting biology in drinking water.”

Pinto came to North­eastern from the Uni­ver­sity of Glasgow where he was a lec­turer, and noted that the Depart­ment of Civil and Envi­ron­mental Engineering’s strong rep­u­ta­tion played a major role in his decision.

“When I was doing my grad­uate work at Vir­ginia Tech, you would see asso­ciate pro­fessor April Gu’s work pre­sented at con­fer­ences so I was aware of the pro­gram for a long time,” Pinto said. “I’m looking for­ward to col­lab­o­rating with people who have very dif­ferent exper­tise than mine to see if we can con­tribute to each other’s research.”

Related Faculty: Ameet Pinto

Related Departments:Civil & Environmental Engineering