Environmental antibiotic resistance is a major threat to human and veterinary health and a key issue addressed by the European One Health Action Plan Against Antimicrobial Resistance. City sewers shelter rich and diverse bacterial communities that are continuously exposed to antibiotic residues from human excreta, thus becoming a reservoir of resistance. Predicting the risk of antibiotic resistance evolution in city sewers requires a comprehensive understanding of the dynamics and evolution of wastewater bacterial communities faced to such exposition. However, sewers are complex environments and contain multiple abiotic factors, which may act in non-additive ways. In addition, interactions between species within communities affect growth and consequently competition, through both density- and frequency-dependent processes. By changing the competitive ability of variants, such as antibiotic resistant phenotypes, interspecies interactions also change evolutionary processes. DEAR-Waste aims at understanding the dynamics of communities and antibiotic resistance evolution in city sewers, together with establishing wastewater as a model system for fundamental studies on community dynamics and evolution. DEAR-Waste adopts an interdisciplinary approach, combining high-throughput sequencing technologies, environmental chemistry, microbial ecology and evolution, time-series statistical analysis, and formal modelling. Data from synthetic mesocosms will parametrize the Hutchinsonian niche for population in communities: a tolerance curve mapping species performance onto a complex environmental space defined by the multidimensional abiotic environment and species interactions. Predictions from these curves will be tested against field measurements of microbial and chemical dynamics sampled in city sewers. An evolutionary experiment in similar mesocosms will finally quantify how environmental complexity and interspecies interactions modulate the evolution of antibiotic resistance.
Microorganisms control the fluxes of geochemical cycles, and new anaerobic microbial processes are new. Only 20 years ago, the anaerobic oxidation processes of both ammonia and methane were discovered. Anammox bacteria discovered in 1999, became a successful application for ammonia removal in full-scale wastewater after 10 years of fundamental physiological studies in controlled bioreactors. Anaerobic processes integrated in oxygen-limited systems, offer significant engineering, financial and environmental advantages. 9 years ago, microorganisms that oxidize methane using nitrate and/or nitrite were discovered; these “anaerobic methane oxidizers” have the potential to revolutionize the current challenges in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in wastewater transport and sewage treatment. For that to happen, the understanding of the intricate microbial ecophysiology in full-scale engineered sewage systems is of extreme importance. Physiology and microbial ecology studies have yielded limited results in the last 5 years, and studies such as this proposal, are relevant to advance sustainable wastewater management. In this project, we apply state-of-the-art omics, modern bio-reactor technology, and use current real treatment systems as models; to unravel further their potential. The candidate Dr. Guerrero, has extensive knowledge in their physiology and enrichment crucial to expand the knowledge gap in this field needed to truly develop new applications. The supervisor Dr. Pijuan, has the experience and knowledge in applied engineering in sewage treatment and this proposal can enhance the leadership role of female mentors. ICRA as host institution, has a multidisciplinary team and extensive facilities to host the research and maximize its impact in the field. This proposal will focus on connecting research to an applied context by engaging leaders in water management, and developing international relationships, and forming new innovation human resource.
Poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have been used since the 1940s and are known as “forever chemicals” due to their extreme persistency to advanced (waste)water treatment strategies. Due to the strength of the C-F bond, each released molecule of PFAS remains in the environment. Today there are more than 9,000 known PFAS, majority of them being extremely resistant to any kind of degradation, and with high bioaccumulation potentials and toxicities. Electrochemical processes can address the challenge of PFAS presence in water, provided that the anode material is low cost and can break the C-F bond without forming toxic byproducts. Graphene sponge anode developed by our team is the first material to fulfill both requirements. In this project, we will aim at upscaling the electrochemical treatment based on graphene sponge electrodes and testing its long-term performance in degrading PFAS from complex residual streams. This will enable us to answer key scientific and technical questions required for further technology adoption by the water industry, many of them related to the fundamental mechanisms of electrochemical C-F bond breakage and features of anodically polarized graphene. Based on the results achieved to date at lab-scale, GRAPHEC technology has a strong potential to evolve into a sustainable, chemical-free destruction technology for PFAS-laden wastewaters and achieve their complete destruction at ambient temperature and pressure, in modular units, with low capital and operational cost. Finally, this project also aims at keeping the existing intellectual property and engaging early technology adopters in Europe and beyond to form a mature network of future clients and reach a technology readiness level (TRL) 6 at the end of the project. The project will deliver a new platform technology for the removal of toxic and persistent chemicals from water and is likely to play a key role in the EU´s Green Deal Agenda for securing a toxic-free environment.
The presence of toxic, carcinogenic and bioaccumulative per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in our water cycle is one of the major challenges that the humanity is facing in the 21st century, and there are no established (waste)water treatment technologies capable of their degradation. Here, we will address this challenge by developing low-cost graphene sponge electrodes tailored to achieve efficient electrosorption/adsorption and subsequent electrochemical degradation of PFAS. Emphasis will be placed on the removal and degradation of more polar, shorter-chain (e.g.,