Reducing the risk of viral contamination of the UK’s food and water supply

By Luke Hillary , Bangor University

While viruses can escape wastewater treatment plants through treated water, this is not their only route to freedom. Sludge is the solid waste produced from our sewage system and this is often used on agricultural land to improve soil quality. As part of the multidisciplinary STARS soil science PHD programme funded by NERC/ BBSRC, I will examine how sludge treatments affect the viral communities of soil. At present, we know that human pathogenic viruses such as hepatitis A and E and norovirus can be detected in both sewage sludge and soil. However, we know little of how long these viruses persist in the soil and what affects this persistence. By combining metaviromics with PCR and infectivity studies, I am aiming to increase our understanding of the flow of viruses from sludge though soil to the aquatic environment, and address the possible policy implications for sludge disposal as part of food production. For updates on the progress of my research, follow me on Twitter @lukehillary.