Environmental Microbiology & Human Health

Programme overview

The vision of this programme is to provide the scientific evidence to support fast and efficient identification of pathogenic/allergenic microorganisms and biological material in environmental media which can be used in appropriate tools and models for the protection of public health.

Background and objectives

Environmental media such as air and water and their associated ecological niches, for instance sediments and biofilms, provide important pathways for human exposure to pathogenic and allergenic microorganisms.  The presence and concentration of microorganisms, and hence human exposure to them, is affected by environmental conditions. However, knowledge of the sources, sinks and pathways, and therefore the exposure of humans to allergenic and pathogenic microorganisms, is limited due to inadequate methods of measurement. The objectives of this programme were therefore:

  1. To enhance the speed, accuracy and reproducibility of detection and sampling methods for pathogenic/allergenic microorganisms and biological material in environmental media that impact human health, with particular interest in cutting edge and novel techniques.  For bioaerosols, detection methods may include improved molecular methods and sequencing techniques and/or address the problem of counting non‐viable organisms.
  2. To demonstrate the use of the enhanced techniques for process studies in freshwater and coastal waters and for bioaerosols.

Projects funded

This £5·15 million programme (2015-2019) was co-funded by the Defence Science & Technology Laboratory (Dstl) and Food Standards Agency (FSA).  Details of the four projects funded are shown in our online grants browser - Grants on the Web below.

View details of funded projects

Reports and key findings

The following documents and links are related to or give more information about this programme:

Project Impact Reports

VIRAQUA Research Impact Report (PDF, 713KB)

Endotox II Impact Report (PDF, 284KB)

RESERVOIRS Project Impact Summary (PDF, 758KB)

RAMBIE Impact Publication (PDF, 180KB)

Summary of programme outputs

EMHH programme outputs against objectives (PDF, 101KB)

Project Outcomes

EMHH Outcomes (PDF, 122KB)

Project presentations at the final programme meeting in December 2018

VIRAQUA December 2018 programme conference (PDF, 4.5MB)

Endotox II December 2018 programme conference (PDF, 2.5MB)

RESERVOIRS  December 2018 programme conference (PDF, 6MB)

RAMBIE December 2018 programme conference (PDF, 2.4MB)

Publications and Videos

EMHH publications (PDF, 141KB)

Videos explaining the science within this programme to the public were commissioned by the Eden Project, Cornwall, produced by Steve Mould and feature one of the co-investigators, Professor William Gaze, University of Exeter.  These videos are being shown at the Eden Project’s Invisible Worlds exhibition funded by the Wellcome Trust (2020).



Antimicrobial resistance


NERC is funding research on COVID-19 sewage epidemiology. The Welsh wastewater study is a direct legacy of VIRAQUA, and informed the national coronavirus waste water surveillance programme.