(Aug. 7, 2018) -- Researchers from The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) and Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) are using unique DNA-based tracers to characterize the recharge and flow patterns in the Edwards Aquifer. The work, led by Vikram Kapoor of the UTSA College of Engineering and Ronald Green of SwRI’s Space Science and Engineering Division, is supported by a $125,000 grant from the organizations’ Connecting through Research Partnerships (Connect) Program.
The Edwards Aquifer is the primary source of drinking water for a vast number of people living in central and south Texas. As a natural water resource, it’s vulnerable to contamination from storm water runoff, leaking septic tanks and municipal waste. When a contamination occurs, it’s vital to detect the source quickly, which can be challenging.
“It’s very difficult to discern flow paths in the Edwards Aquifer,” Green said. “The bed of the waterway is made up of limestone, which has partially dissolved over time, creating a honeycomb structure that makes it impossible to visually identify the water’s path.”
To remedy this, local researchers are using a new class of DNA-based tracers to map the flow path of the aquifer. The tracers will be capsules made of environmentally safe material to ensure protection from environmental degradation while also permitting detection. The DNA material stored inside the capsule will be a synthetic, double-stranded DNA that is unique to each tracer.
“Scientists currently rely on fluorescent dyes and streamflow gain and loss measurements to discern flow pathways, but these methods don’t allow us to identify specific pollutant sources or individual flowpaths of concern, particularly in complex landscapes,” said Kapoor. “Because DNA is made of the four basic molecules that can be combined in any random order, the DNA-based tracer system allows for the fabrication of thousands of unique tracers.”
In addition to being cost-effective, the DNA-based tracers the researchers develop will allow for a large number of individual tracers to be simultaneously distinguished from one another.
After the tracers are released at different points in the water source, samples from throughout the aquifer will be collected and examined. The team will note which tracer has appeared in each sample and how many are present, to determine their path through the aquifer. This new mapping method differs starkly from the traditional approach of using fluorescent dyes to visually trace flow paths.
The method is expected to aid in the rapid detection of the source of contaminations by offering a clear, unique understanding of the complex flow paths of the aquifer. The team also plans to use the data results to create a robust database to calibrate surface water and ground water modeling, and support other hydrogeological studies.
“Ultimately, our goal is to improve the hydrological and biogeochemical models that are currently used to predict the transport of pollutants, aquifer recharge and other hydrological processes,” said Kapoor.
The Connecting through Research Partnerships (Connect) Program, sponsored by the UTSA Office of the Vice President for Research, Economic Development and Knowledge Enterprise (VPREDKE) and the SwRI Executive Office, is a grant opportunity offered to enhance greater scientific collaboration between the two institutions and to increase both UTSA’s and SwRI’s research-funding base with cross-campus collaborative programs.
Learn more about the UTSA Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
Learn more about the UTSA-SwRI Connect program.
The Department of Social Work introduces new students to the Master of Social Work program.Buena Vista Street Building Assembly Room (BVB 1.338), Downtown Campus
The kickoff to Roadrunner Days, the UTSA community welcomes the thousands of students who move in to their new homes as they begin their journey at UTSA.Various residence halls, Main Campus
After a full day of moving, UTSA students and their families are invited to the party featuring food, swag, dancing and a special performance from the Spirit of San Antonio marching band.Student Union Paseo, Main Campus
This come and go session allows Roadrunners and their families to explore all the great things the UTSA Libraries offers to help students succeed. Join a group on a quest through the library for a chance at prizes and enjoy some ice cream.John Peace Library, Main Campus
Fast Action Trivia is a game where participants interact with fellow Roadrunners to test their brain skills while learning some interesting things about UTSA and have a chance to win actual cash money!Student Union Retama Auditorium (SU 2.02.02), Main Campus
This UTSA tradition is a fun, engaging opportunity for Roadrunners to learn about the facilities, recreation programs and wellness services offered at the Main and Downtown Campuses while also enjoying tons of games and activities with new and old friends.Recreation and Wellness Center Texas Room (RWC 2.214) and San Antonio Room (RWC 2.218), Main Campus
The UTSA Ambassadors are here to help students find their classes before the first day of school! Bring your class schedule to the UTSA Ambassadors table in the Student Union Ski Lodge (near Chili’s Too!), and they will help you navigate the campus to find your classes.Student Union Ski Lodge (SU 1.01.00), Main Campus
Kickback at the Union is a welcome back event for new and returning Roadrunners. Come relax and learn about the Student Union, enjoy free food, games, photo booth, and a chance to connect with each department in the Union. Arrive early for free t-shirt and stay late for a movie.Student Union Paseo and Buildings, Main Campus