Monica B. Emelko


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Realizing the value in “non-standard” parts of the qPCR standard curve by integrating fundamentals of quantitative microbiology
Philip J. Schmidt, Nicole Acosta, Alex H. S. Chik, Patrick M. D’Aoust, Robert Delatolla, Hadi A. Dhiyebi, Melissa B. Glier, Casey R. J. Hubert, Jennifer Kopetzky, Chand Mangat, Xiaoli Pang, Shelley Peterson, Natalie Prystajecky, Yuanyuan Qiu, Mark R. Servos, Monica B. Emelko
Frontiers in Microbiology, Volume 14

The real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR), commonly known as quantitative PCR (qPCR), is increasingly common in environmental microbiology applications. During the COVID-19 pandemic, qPCR combined with reverse transcription (RT-qPCR) has been used to detect and quantify SARS-CoV-2 in clinical diagnoses and wastewater monitoring of local trends. Estimation of concentrations using qPCR often features a log-linear standard curve model calibrating quantification cycle (Cq) values obtained from underlying fluorescence measurements to standard concentrations. This process works well at high concentrations within a linear dynamic range but has diminishing reliability at low concentrations because it cannot explain "non-standard" data such as Cq values reflecting increasing variability at low concentrations or non-detects that do not yield Cq values at all. Here, fundamental probabilistic modeling concepts from classical quantitative microbiology were integrated into standard curve modeling approaches by reflecting well-understood mechanisms for random error in microbial data. This work showed that data diverging from the log-linear regression model at low concentrations as well as non-detects can be seamlessly integrated into enhanced standard curve analysis. The newly developed model provides improved representation of standard curve data at low concentrations while converging asymptotically upon conventional log-linear regression at high concentrations and adding no fitting parameters. Such modeling facilitates exploration of the effects of various random error mechanisms in experiments generating standard curve data, enables quantification of uncertainty in standard curve parameters, and is an important step toward quantifying uncertainty in qPCR-based concentration estimates. Improving understanding of the random error in qPCR data and standard curve modeling is especially important when low concentrations are of particular interest and inappropriate analysis can unduly affect interpretation, conclusions regarding lab performance, reported concentration estimates, and associated decision-making.


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Correlating forested green infrastructure to water rates and adverse water quality incidents: A spatial instrumental variable regression model
Zehua Pan, Roy Brouwer, Monica B. Emelko
Forest Policy and Economics, Volume 140

There is increasing interest in the cost-effectiveness and economic benefits of replacing traditional engineering-based ‘grey’ infrastructure with nature-based ‘green’ infrastructure in the water sector. This study builds on the emerging literature in this field and sets itself apart in several ways. New in this study is the focus on the interrelationship between green infrastructure, water treatment costs proxied by drinking water rates, and drinking water safety. The latter refers to adverse treated water quality incidents (AWQI's) such as unsatisfactory bacteriological test results that may lead to drinking water advisories when sufficiently severe. An integrated modelling framework is furthermore developed, accounting simultaneously for possible spatial spill-over effects due to watershed land cover and potential endogeneity embedded in the relationship between water treatment costs, drinking water billing, and the occurrence of AWQI's. Data from the water- and forest-abundant and densely populated Canadian province of Ontario were used and significant negative correlations between forested land area and both drinking water rates and AWQI's are observed. While causality underlying these relationships needs further investigation, these results indicate support for the use of techno-ecological nature-based solutions in drinking water risk management.


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A Regional-Scale Index for Assessing the Exposure of Drinking-Water Sources to Wildfires
François Robinne, Kevin D. Bladon, U. Silins, Monica B. Emelko, Mike D. Flannigan, Marc‐André Parisien, Xianli Wang, S. W. Kienzle, Diane Dupont
Forests, Volume 10, Issue 5

Recent human-interface wildfires around the world have raised concerns regarding the reliability of freshwater supply flowing from severely burned watersheds. Degraded source water quality can often be expected after severe wildfire and can pose challenges to drinking water facilities by straining treatment response capacities, increasing operating costs, and jeopardizing their ability to supply consumers. Identifying source watersheds that are dangerously exposed to post-wildfire hydrologic changes is important for protecting community drinking-water supplies from contamination risks that may lead to service disruptions. This study presents a spatial index of watershed exposure to wildfires in the province of Alberta, Canada, where growing water demands coupled with increasing fire activity threaten municipal drinking-water supplies. Using a multi-criteria analysis design, we integrated information regarding provincial forest cover, fire danger, source water volume, source-water origin (i.e., forested/un-forested), and population served. We found that (1) >2/3 of the population of the province relies on drinking-water supplies originating in forested watersheds, (2) forest cover is the most important variable controlling final exposure scores, and (3) watersheds supplying small drinking water treatment plants are particularly exposed, especially in central Alberta. The index can help regional authorities prioritize the allocation of risk management resources to mitigate adverse impacts from wildfire. The flexible design of this tool readily allows its deployment at larger national and continental scales to inform broader water security frameworks.