Do you know what’s in your drinking water?

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Ameet Pinto, a new associate professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Drinking water has been at the fore­front of the public con­scious in recent months, with con­t­a­m­i­na­tion crises in Flint, Michigan, Ver­mont, and upstate New York ren­dering water there unsafe to consume.

Ameet Pinto
Ameet Pinto

Northeastern University Fac­ulty member Ameet Pinto, assis­tant pro­fessor in the Depart­ment of Civil and Envi­ron­mental Engi­neering, is working to make drinking water even safer.

Every liter of drinking water has 1 mil­lion to 100 mil­lion micro­bial cells in it,” Pinto explained. “It is still smaller than bac­teria that might be in our food or asso­ci­ated with our bodies, but it is a com­po­nent that has not been looked at very vigorously.”

Pinto arrived on campus in Jan­uary and brought with him a curiosity about the under­lying mech­a­nisms that allow these treatment-resistant micro­bial com­mu­ni­ties to per­sist. He uses DNA sequencing to gather infor­ma­tion about entire genomes and aims to design treat­ments to better manage the bac­teria so they does not pose a threat to public health.

One appli­ca­tion that can come from this is if the organ­isms are already there, can we ben­efit from them in some way,” Pinto said. “And are there sus­tain­able processes we can imple­ment to exploit the already-present biology.”

Pinto began his under­grad­uate career studying chem­ical engi­neering, but a class in envi­ron­mental pol­lu­tion and con­trol engi­neering inspired him to shift his focus toward envi­ron­mental studies. From there he studied waste­water man­age­ment, even­tu­ally iden­ti­fying a void in the water treat­ment field in terms of uti­lizing biology present in water.

On the waste­water side we exploit biology. It is cen­tral to the process,” Pinto said. “And on the drinking water side most of the effort goes toward removing bac­teria. So when I made this tran­si­tion, I felt there was a sys­tem­atic dif­fer­ence in how things were per­ceived and what moti­vated people. There was not a lot of work done in terms of exploiting biology in drinking water.”

Pinto came to North­eastern from the Uni­ver­sity of Glasgow where he was a lec­turer, and noted that the Depart­ment of Civil and Envi­ron­mental Engineering’s strong rep­u­ta­tion played a major role in his decision.

When I was doing my grad­uate work at Vir­ginia Tech, you would see asso­ciate pro­fessor April Gu’s work pre­sented at con­fer­ences so I was aware of the pro­gram for a long time,” Pinto said. “I’m looking for­ward to col­lab­o­rating with people who have very dif­ferent exper­tise than mine to see if we can con­tribute to each other’s research.”

(Published with permission from News at Northeastern.)

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