Disinfection is the most effective barrier to prevent human exposure to waterborne viruses. Yet, disinfection is not always successful, and infective viruses are therefore regularly detected in treated water and wastewater. Failure to disinfect viruses may ultimately lead to more frequent disease outbreaks, with costly consequences. A factor contributing to incomplete disinfection is resistance. Several environmental isolates of enteric viruses have been found to better tolerate traditional disinfectants compared to the corresponding lab strains. This indicates that small changes in their genetic composition can render viruses resistant to disinfection. The genetic basis of resistance and the associated biological mechanisms, however, are unknow.
The goal of this project is to unravel the characteristics and mechanisms that allow viruses to withstand treatment by common disinfectants (UV, chlorine, pasteurization…). Ultimately, this will help us identify treatment approaches to control resistant viruses. To understand disinfection resistance, we must first identify the mechanisms by which disinfectants typically act. We therefore first characterize the mechanisms of inactivation of different disinfectants, and then investigate why these treatments are less effective for resistant viruses. Finally, we assess biological the cost and benefit associated with resistance. For this work, we use approaches borrowed from evolutionary virology, genetics, and molecular biology.