Inaugural Water Microbiology Conference brings together international researchers on microbiology and public health

May 12, 2014

The Water Institute at UNC, part of UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, hosted its first Water Microbiology Conference: Microbial Contaminants from Watersheds to Human Exposure May 5-7 in Chapel Hill, N.C. The event brought together 200 researchers and practitioners from 16 countries focused on the intersection of microbiology and public health.

Attendees at the inaugural Water and Microbiology conference review program materials.

Attendees at the inaugural Water Microbiology conference review program materials.

Keynote speakers included Dr. David Kay, of Aberystwyth University (Wales), who spoke about regulation and management of bathing and shellfish waters in the U.K.; Dr. Joan B. Rose, of Michigan State University, who discussed new molecular tools for surveying and mapping water pollution in recreational and drinking water; and Dr. John F. Griffith, of the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project, whose presentation dealt with the development, evaluation and implementation of methods for rapid assessment of beach water quality and microbial source identification.

More than 100 verbal and poster presentations were offered, addressing topics including quantitative microbial risk assessment; development and testing of novel diagnostic tools for water quality management; and emerging concerns, such as antibiotic resistance and stormwater fate and transport. Several side events on these issues were also held, as well as a session on preparedness and response to extreme weather events in the context of microbial contaminants and public health.

“About a year ago, several people reached out to us to help fill a gap that had been identified in the community,” said Jamie Bartram, PhD, Don and Jennifer Holzworth Distinguished Professor of environmental sciences and engineering at the Gillings School and director of The Water Institute at UNC. “The gap was that too few events in the U.S. convene researchers and practitioners around microbiology and public health issues.”

In response, Bartram led a planning committee of UNC faculty members including Mark Sobsey, PhD, Kenan Distinguished Professor, Jill Stewart, PhD, assistant professor, and Rachel Noble, PhD, professor, all in environmental sciences and engineering at the Gillings School. Noble also is professor of marine sciences at the Institute for Marine Sciences in Morehead City, N.C.

In addition, Bartram assembled an external advisory committee.

“With the guidance and efforts of our advisory committee, we developed a forum that provides opportunities to exchange ideas, debate challenging topics at the intersection of water microbiology and public health, and explore potential collaboration and field advancement,” Bartram said.

Conference presentations and videos of keynote speeches will be available online at

Next year’s conference is scheduled for May 18-22, 2015, in Chapel Hill.

Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: David Pesci, director of communications, (919) 962-2600 or