Watershed Metagenomics Project Update
 
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RIPPLES OF CHANGE - METAGENOMICS TO IMPROVE WATERSHED HEALTH

Reporting Back On the Project 
Happy World Water Day! Thank you for your tremendous support of the Watershed Metagenomics project over the past three years. With the project coming to an end in June 2015, we will be using email updates over the coming months to provide you with our highlights and findings from the project.  Please feel free to share it with any colleagues who may also be interested.
 
Should you no longer want to receive these updates, simply click 'unsubscribe' at the bottom of any newsletter.  We welcome your feedback and suggestions at any time.
 
Sincerely,
Dr. Judy Isaac-Renton, Dr. Patrick Tang and Dr. Natalie Prystajecky

Brief Overview

Water is one of Canada’s greatest natural resources: it is not only essential for life but it is also central to the Canadian way of life.
 
Goal:
Our goal is to change the way we monitor water quality in our watersheds. Current tools to assess water quality are nearly a century old and have not adopted newer, faster molecular monitoring methods. The new science of metagenomics - an approach that looks at all genomes from an environment - is being used to discover novel indicators of water pollution as well as to identify sources of pollution.  We are creating “water profiles” that provide a picture of watershed health, and are working towards developing tools to support proactive rather than reactive protection of our water sources.  

Check out our new infographic on this project.

Project Aims

1. The objectives that our assembled multi-disciplinary team of social and physical scientists from across Canada focused on, included:
2. To use metagenomics to generate microbial signatures (from the microbiome of all bacteria, parasites, and viruses present) of healthy vs. impacted watersheds.
3. To create novel tests that monitor changes in the microbiome to detect pollution and pinpoint specific sources of pollution.
4. To engage a wide range of watershed stakeholders and facilitate the development and eventual uptake of new molecular tests.

Impacts

Our team has worked hard and has been incredibly productive.  Some impact of our work includes:
1. Innovation: Using the new metagenomics tools to discover biomarkers (microbial signatures) that correlate with watershed health.
2. Economic Benefits: Reduced health care system costs, reduced losses to industries impacted by water pollution, reduced costs to the drinking water industry.
3. Environmental Leadership: Water resources provide extensive value in ecosystem services.
4. Regulatory and Policy: Promoting better water management, policy advice and input
FEATURE RESEARCH UPDATE
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Watershed Sample Collection and Sequencing Completed

We have collected a huge amount of data!

Our team sampled three watersheds – protected, agriculturally-impacted, urban-impacted – at 7 sites every month for 12 months.  The microbial genome sequence data was generated from these samples, and data are being analysed to look for biomarkers and microbial signatures that distinguish between the watersheds as well as pinpoint sources of fecal contamination.

​We developed and validated novel methods for filtering these samples and we innovated around extracting nucleic acids from each group of potential pollutant (viruses, bacteria, parasites).  Developing methods proved to be challenging with the laboratory team exploring, developing and optimizing methods.  For each sampling  event we also collected comprehensive physical, biological and chemical metadata. The image below is a comprehensive view of this work.

(Featured in the picture on the left is Dr. Miguel Uyaguari-Diaz measuring water quality parameters from a watershed)
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We have compiled and are exploring the large amount of microbial (cell) genomic sequence data along with all the associated metadata. 
 
For each sample​ analysed, the following methods were used by our team:
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