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Photo- and Electro-Chemistry Methods for Waterborne Pathogen Treatment and Detection in Environmental Water


Wang, Siwen (2021) Photo- and Electro-Chemistry Methods for Waterborne Pathogen Treatment and Detection in Environmental Water. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/et9z-sz57.


Waterborne disease is a global burden, which is mainly caused by waterborne pathogens disseminated through unsafe water, inadequate sanitation, and hygiene. Antibiotic resistance, which can also spread in water, has become an increasingly serious global health threat as it can prevent the effective treatment of infectious diseases. Improvements on water treatment and detection are the two critical strategies to control the surveillance of waterborne pathogens as well as antibiotic resistance bacteria and genes. The advancement in photo- and electro-chemical methods may provide more opportunities on decentralized water treatment and on-site pathogen monitoring under source-limited conditions. This thesis is dedicated to exploring the possible solutions to automatic, rapid, and easy-to-use in situ pathogen analysis for environmental water by adopting photo- or electro-chemical method, and to enhanced removal of antibiotic resistance bacteria (ARB) and antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) from wastewater by combining photo- and electro-chemical techniques. These include removal of ARB and ARGs by UV-assisted electrochemical treatment, electrochemical cell lysis (ECL) for DNA extraction from bacteria, and sunlight-activated propidium monoazide (PMA) pretreatment for live/dead bacteria differentiation by quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) detection. Both experimental approaches and computational modelling were used to evaluate the performance of the techniques and to bring more insights into the mechanism. Each study presents a demonstration on real environmental or wastewater to access the potential of their applications under complex environmental parameters.

UV-assisted electrochemical treatment for ARB and ARGs was conducted using a blue TiO₂ nanotube array (BNTA) anode. The inactivation of tetracycline- and SMX-resistant E. coli and the corresponding plasmid coded genes (tetA and sul1) damage was measured by plate counting on selective agar and qPCR, respectively. As a comparison of UV treatment alone, the enhanced reduction of both ARB and ARGs was achieved by UV-assisted electrochemical oxidation (UV-EO) without Cl⁻ and was further facilitated with the presence of Cl⁻, which is attributed to the in-situ generated oxidants by electrochemical process. Significantly slower removal of ARG than ARB was observed for both UV irradiation alone and UV-EO treatment, wherein intracellular ARG generally reduced slower than extracellular ones, and short amplicons reduced significantly slower than long ones. The predominant nucleotide damage by UV irradiation and conformational change by UV-EO treatment was visualized by DNA gel electrophoresis for treated extracellular ARGs. The mechanism on ARB and ARGs damage was further understood by computational chemical modeling. The slower reduction was found for the native bacteria and genes, tetA and sul1, in the latrine wastewater than that in laboratory-prepared buffered samples. The result emphasizes that all the UV-based techniques may only apply after other treatments to avoid the impairment by the transmittance, color, and particulate material in environmental or wastewater.

A comprehensive investigation was conducted for ECL in terms of its performance on DNA extraction from gram-negative bacteria (Escherichia coli and Salmonella Typhi) and gram-positive bacteria (Enterococcus durans and Bacillus subtilis). A milliliter-output ECL device was developed based on the disruption of the cell membrane by OH⁻ that can be generated locally at the cathode and accumulated improvingly through a cation exchange membrane. Both gram-negative and gram-positive bacteria were successfully lysed within 1 min at a low voltage of ~5 V. To better understand the pH effects on cell lysis, the pH profile at the cathode surface and in bulk cathodic effluent was simulated via hydroxide transport in the cathodic chamber. The demonstration of ECL on various environmental water sample types (including pond water, treated wastewater, and untreated wastewater) showed its potential as a prelude to nucleic-acid based analyses of waterborne bacteria in the field.

Propidium monoazide (PMA), a nucleic acid-binding dye, has been used to distinguish live from dead cells prior to PCR-based detection. To explore the off-the-grid application of PMA, sunlight was investigated for PMA activation as an alternative light source to a typical halogen lamp. PMA was successfully activated by a solar simulator, and the pretreatment conditions were optimized with respect to the PMA concentration as 80 µM and the exposure time as 10 min. The optimal PMA pretreatment was tested on four different bacteria species (two gram-positive and two gram-negative), and the effects of sunlight intensity and multi-sequential treatment were studied. Sunlight-activated PMA pretreatment was eventually demonstrated on latrine wastewater samples with natural sunlight on both sunny and cloudy days. The results showed the potential of sunlight-activated PMA pretreatment to be integrated into a lab-on-a-chip (LOAC) PCR device for off-the-grid microbial detection and quantification.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Waterborne pathogen; Antibiotic resistance genes; Photoelectrochemistry; ElectrochemicaL cell lysis; Propidium monoazide
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Geological and Planetary Sciences
Major Option:Environmental Science and Engineering
Awards:The C. Ellen Gonter Environmental Chemistry Award, 2019
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Hoffmann, Michael R.
Thesis Committee:
  • Leadbetter, Jared R. (chair)
  • Hoffmann, Michael R.
  • Tirrell, David A.
  • Wang, Kaihang
Defense Date:16 September 2020
Non-Caltech Author Email:siwensisiwang (AT)
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Bill and Melinda Gates FoundationOPP1111246
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:09182020-085441808
Persistent URL:
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription adapted for Chapter 2. adapted for Chapter 3. adapted for Chapter 4.
Wang, Siwen0000-0002-8553-425X
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:13958
Deposited By: Siwen Wang
Deposited On:29 Sep 2020 23:38
Last Modified:27 Oct 2021 22:05

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