Grant to help water contamination research
24 July 2012
UC researchers will study viruses that have contaminated water systems after the Christchurch earthquakes following a $100,000 research grant from the American New Zealand Association (ANZA).
Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Town met with the ANZA Board in New York recently and gratefully accepted the award for the quake-related research.
The project, Quake-viromics: Investigating viruses in earthquake contaminated Christchurch water systems, aims to determine the impact of the quakes on the microbial, particularly viral, distribution along water systems in Christchurch and surrounding areas.
UC’s Dr Arvind Varsani (Biological Sciences) will lead the project and will work with colleagues Associate Professor Jon Harding (Biological Sciences), Dr Peyman Zawar-Reza and Dr Christopher Gomez (Geography).
“Damaged sewage systems and massive liquefaction of sediments will have had profound effects on the type and amount of viruses in our waterways,” said Dr Varsani.
“We will screen for viruses that are common in faecal matter. Full sequencing of genetic material recovered from the environment will also be performed not only to complete categorisation of these viromes, but to establish post-quake baseline to check the process of the recovery of the ecosystems.”
Researchers will take samples from two river systems, one affected by the quakes and the other unaffected – as well as from streams outside Christchurch to create a pre-quake baseline.
“Since it is more than a year out from the Christchurch earthquakes and, given that viruses are stable in various ecosystems, we hypothesise that viruses that leeched out of sewage systems into a river post-earthquake should be present in the river sediment and within the soil along the banks of the river,” said Dr Varsani.
The collected data will be used alongside Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to statistically determine the relationship between damaged infrastructure and viral abundance and diversity.
Professor Town said the research results “are likely to be significant in informing and aiding the recovery of Christchurch water systems which have been perturbed by the earthquakes”.
“At ANZA we wanted to look at research projects that provided tangible long term help in dealing with the many earthquake repercussions as Christchurch goes forward”, said Chairman of the Association Ian Phillips.
“We worked with the University of Canterbury on a number of different potential research proposals and are very pleased to be able to support this project.”
Previous projects supported by ANZA include Te Ru Tauira, an after-school homework support and Maori leadership programme; an outreach programme at Linwood College, Aranui and Papanui high schools delivered by UC students enrolled in secondary teacher education at UC; and UC Me XL, a UC Pacific Development Team Outreach Programme at Linwood College and Aranui High School. Money for these projects was donated by ANZA following the Canterbury earthquakes.
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