(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.
In honor of UTSA's 50th Anniversary in 2019, the university is hosting Roadrunner Days Spring Edition - two weeks of semester-launching activities built around our deeply held values of student success, student involvement, community service and fun!Various locations, Main and Downtown Campuses
The UTSA Department of Physics and Astronomy invites everyone to its monthly lecture and stargazing event (weather permitting).Flawn Building (FLN 2.02.02) and Curtis Vaughn Jr. Observatory, 4th floor of Flawn Building, Main Campus
All UTSA students, faculty, staff, alums & families are invited to march as a unified community. Register here: bit.ly/2TYbHbR. Shuttles will be provided from the Main and Downtown Campuses.Martin Luther King, Jr. Academy, 3501 MLK Dr., San Antonio
UTSA's John Nix invites the community to sing "Amazing Grace" and “We Shall Overcome” at 11 a.m. on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The intent of this nationwide effort is to honor Dr. King's legacy and to spread a sense of community in the United States.Locations throughout the United States
Opening Reception got exhibit featuring artists Miguel Aragon, Aaron Coleman, Sandra Fernandez, Annalise Gratovich, Marco Hernandez, Kristen Powers Nowlin, & Patricia Villalobos EcheverriaMain Art Gallery, Arts Building (ART 2.03.04), Main Campus
Tracy Cowden, Roland K. Blumberg Endowed Professor in Music and chair of the UTSA Department of Music launches the UTSA 50th Anniversary Scholars Speaker Series with Music as Medicine: The Power and Influence of Music on our Health.Radius Center, 106 Auditorium Cir. #120, San Antonio
UTSA African American Studies Program presents this series featuring Walter M. Kimbrough, president of Dillard University.Student Union Retama Auditorium (SU 2.02.02), Main Campus)
Join fellow Runners to walk for 10 minutes on the Main Campus. The event reminds us of the importance of exercise, diet and healthy habits in protecting our hearts.Outside the North Paseo Building, Main Campus
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