• Centre for Microbiology and Environmental Systems Science

  • CUBE - Computational Systems Biology

  • DOME - Microbial Ecology

  • EDGE - Environmental Geosciences

  • TER - Terrestrial Ecosystem Research


Latest publications

Chlamydiae in the Environment.

Chlamydiae have been known for more than a century as major pathogens of humans. Yet they are also found ubiquitously in the environment where they thrive within protists and in an unmatched wide range of animals. This review summarizes recent advances in understanding chlamydial diversity and distribution in nature. Studying these environmental chlamydiae provides a novel perspective on basic chlamydial biology and evolution. A picture is beginning to emerge with chlamydiae representing one of the evolutionarily most ancient and successful groups of obligate intracellular bacteria.

Collingro A, Köstlbacher S, Horn M
2020 - Trends Microbiol., in press

Anthropogenic gadolinium in freshwater and drinking water systems

The increasing use of gadolinium-based contrast agents (GBCAs) for magnetic resonance imaging is leading to widespread contamination of freshwater and drinking water systems. Contrary to previous assumptions that GBCAs are stable throughout the water cycle, they can degrade. The stability of GBCAs depends largely on their organic ligands, but also on the physicochemical conditions. There is specific concern regarding UV end-of-pipe water treatments, which may degrade GBCAs. Degradation products in drinking water supplies can increase the risk of adverse health effects. This is of particular relevance where the raw water for drinking water production has a higher proportion of recycled wastewater. GBCAs concentrations in aquatic systems, often referred to as anthropogenic gadolinium, are determined using a variety of calculation methods. Where anthropogenic gadolinium concentrations are low, the inconsistent use of these methods results in high discrepancies and high levels of uncertainty. The current COVID-19 crisis will, in the short-term, drastically decrease the input of GBCAs to freshwater systems. Temporal variations in anthropogenic gadolinium concentrations in river water can be used to better understand river-aquifer interactions and groundwater flow velocities. Collecting urine from all patients following MRI examinations could be a way forward to halt the generally increasing concentrations of Gd in drinking water systems and recover this technologically critical element.

Robert Brünjes and Thilo Hofmann
2020 - Water Research, 182: 115966

Quantification and Characterization of Nanoparticulate Zinc in an Urban Watershed

The recent expansion in the use of nanomaterials in consumer and industrial applications has led to a growing concern over their behavior, fate, and impacts in environmental systems. However, engineered nanoparticles comprise only a small fraction of the total nanoparticle mass in aquatic systems. Human activities, particularly in urban watersheds, are increasing the population of incidental nanoparticles and are likely  altering the cycling of more abundant natural nanoparticles. Accurate detection, quantification, characterization, and tracking of these different populations is important for assessing both the ecological risks of anthropogenic particles, and their impact on environmental health. The urban portion of the South Platte watershed in Denver, Colorado (United States) was sampled for zinc to identify and quantify different nanomaterial sources. Single particle ICP-QMS was employed, to provide single elemental (Zn) signals arising from particle detection events. Coupling spICP-QMS to sample pre-fractionation (sedimentation, filtration) provided some insights into Zn association with nanoparticulate, colloidal, and suspended sediment phases. Single particle ICP-TOFMS (spICP-TOFMS) provided quantification across a large atomic mass range, yielding an even more detailed characterization (elemental ratios) on a particle-by-particle basis, providing some delineation of multiple sources of particles. Across the watershed, on average, 21% of zinc mass was present as zinc-only particles with a rather uniform mean size of 40.2 nm. Zinc that was detected with one or more other elements, primarily Al, Fe, and Si, is likely to be present as heteroagglomerates or within mineral colloids. Although spICP-TOFMS provides a substantial amount of information, it is still in its early stages as an analytical technique and currently lacks the requisite sensitivity to study the smallest of nanoparticles. As this technique continues to develop, it is anticipated that this methodology can be broadly applied to study sources, behavior and effects of a disparate variety of nanoparticles from both geogenic and anthropogenic origins.

Shaun Bevers, Manuel David Montano, Laya Rybicki, Thilo Hofmann, Frank von der Kammer, James F. Ranville
2020 - Frontiers in Environmental Science, 8: 84