Legionella, water and biotechnology

  • A. D. J. Cortés-Sánchez Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (CONACYT), Unidad Nayarit del Centro de Investigaciones Biológicas del Noroeste (UNCIBNOR+) http://orcid.org/0000-0002-1254-8941
Keywords: aquatic environment; antimicrobial activity; biosurfactants; public health; waterborne pathogens


Legionella spp. are microorganisms that are generally found in the aquatic environment (rivers, streams, lakes, among others). The importance in public health is in the fact that this bacterium is capable of multiplying and propagating in artificial aquatic systems (piping systems, storage tanks, fountains, and cooling towers), giving rise to diseases in humans called legionellosis, transmitted by inhalation of contaminated water droplets or aerosols and whose complications can lead to the death of the patient. Legionellosis is of worldwide distribution, Legionella pneumophila being the most commonly involved species in outbreaks and reported cases. The people most at risk are the elderly, people with weakened immune systems, and people with a history of smoking. Around the world, regulatory agencies and health organizations have issued and established recommendations with the purpose of controlling and preventing the risk of contracting this disease, which include the sanitation of water supplies, maintenance through regular cleaning and disinfection of facilities and devices for reducing the presence of this pathogen. The main objective of this review is to present in a general manner, aspects related to the disease known as legionellosis, its casual agents, habitat, transmission form, and phenotypic and metabolic characteristics. Likewise, the methods of control and prevention of these pathogens are presented, including a potential biotechnological alternative that can contribute to actions in favour of the protection of public health through the use of compounds with surface activity called biosurfactants.


AFNOR (2003). Water quality. Detection and enumeration of Legionella spp. and Legionella pneumophila. Method by direct inoculation and after concentra tion by membrane filtration of centrifugation. AFNOR NF T90-431. Association Française de Normalisation, La Plaine Saint-Denis, France.

Alexandropoulou, I. G., Parasidis, T. A., Konstantinidis, T. G., Constantinidis, T. C., & Panopoulou, M. (2013). Antibiotic susceptibility surveillance of environ mental Legionella strains: Application of the E-test to bacteria isolated from hospitals in Greece. Journal of Infectious Diseases and Therapy, 2(1), 1000e103.

Ausina, V., Catalán, V., Cercenado, E., & Pelaz, A. C. (2005). Recommendations of the Spanish Society of Infectious Diseases and Clinical Microbiology. In: Cercenado, E. & Cantón, R. (Ed.). Procedures in Clinical Microbiology. SEIMC. Pp. 1–72. Microbiological diagnosis and control of legionellosis.

Banat, I. M., De Rienzo, M. A. D., & Quinn, G. A. (2014). Microbial biofilms: Biosurfactants as antibiofilm agents. Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology, 98(24), 9915–9929.

Banat, I. M., Franzetti, A., Gandolfi, I., Bestetti, G., Martinotti, M. G., Fracchia, L., & Marchant, R. (2010). Microbial biosurfactants production, applications and future potential. Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology, 87(2), 427–444.

Banat, I., & Thavasi, R. (Ed.). (2018). Microbial biosurfactants and their environ mental and industrial Applications. CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group, Boca Raton.

Beauté, J. (2017). Legionnaires’ disease in Europe, 2011 to 2015. Eurosurveillan ce, 22(27), 30566.

Becerra, G. L. K., & Horna, A. M. V. (2016). Isolation of biosurfactant producing microorganisms and lipases from wastewaters from slaughterhouses and soils contaminated with hydrocarbons. Scientia Agropecuaria, 7, 23–31.

Bernat, P., Paraszkiewicz, K., Siewiera, P., Moryl, M., Płaza, G., & Chojniak, J. (2016). Lipid composition in a strain of Bacillus subtilis, a producer of iturin A lipopeptides that are active against uropathogenic bacteria. World Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology, 32, 157.

Borges, A., Simões, M., Martínez, M. A., & Saavedra, M. J. (2012). Detection of Legionella spp. in natural and man-made water systems using standard guidelines. Journal of Microbiology Research, 2(4), 95–102.

Borges, V., Nunes, A., Sampaio, D. A., Vieira, L., Machado, J., Simões, M. J., Gonçalves, P., & Gomes, J. P. (2016). Legionella pneumophila strain asso ciated with the first evidence of person-to-person transmission of Legionnai res’ disease: A unique mosaic genetic backbone. Scientific Reports, 6, 26261.

Bou, G., Fernández, O. A., García, C., Sáez, N. J. A., & Valdezate, S. (2011). Bac terial identification methods in the microbiology laboratory. Enfermedades Infecciosas y Microbiología Clínica, 29(8), 601–608.

Bruin, J. P., Koshkolda, T., Ijzerman, E. P., Lück, C., Diederen, B. M., Den Boer, J. W., & Mouton, J. W. (2014). Isolation of ciprofloxacin-resistant Legionella pneumophila in a patient with severe pneumonia. Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, 69(10), 2869–2871.

CDC (2015). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sampling procedure and potential sampling sites. Protocol for collecting environmental samples for Legionella culture during a cluster or outbreak investigation or when cases of disease may be associated with a facility. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

CDC (2018). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Legionella (Legionnai res' disease and pontiac fever). National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, Division of Bacterial Diseases. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

Clémence, L., Margot, S., Renaud, B., Joanne, B., Jean Marc, B., & Julien V. (2015). Surfactin from Bacillus subtilis displays an unexpected anti-Legio nella activity. Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology, 99(12), 5083–5093.

Clémence, L., Portier, E., Corre, M. H., Schlusselhuber, M., Depayras, S., Berje aud, J. M., & Verdon, J. (2018). Highlighting the potency of biosurfactants produced by Pseudomonas strains as anti-Legionella agents. BioMed Research International, 2018, Article ID 8194368.

Coronel, L. J., Marqués, A. M., Bastida, J., & Manresa, A. (2016). Optimizing the production of the biosurfactant lichenysin and its application in biofilm control. Journal of Applied Microbiology, 120(1), 99–111.

Correia, A. M., Ferreira, J. S., Borges, V., Nunes, A., Gomes, B., Capucho, R., & Guerreiro, M. (2016). Probable person-to-person transmission of Legionnai res’ disease. New England Journal of Medicine, 374(5), 497–498.

Cortés, S. A. D. J., & Barrón, S. L. R. (2017). The genus Enterococcus spp., a per spective from a focus on health to its biotechnological application. Scientific Journal of Biological Sciences, 6(1), 191–205.

Cortés, S. A. D. J., Díaz, R. M., Hernández, A. A. J., García, O. F., Villanueva, C. A., León, L. L., & San Martin, A. A. L. (2015). Bio surfactants produced by ente robacterial. Global Advanced Research Journal of Microbiology, 4(9), 103–112.

Cortés, S. A. D. J., Espinosa, C. L. D., & Díaz, R. M. (2018). Legionella spp., a hazard to human health. Agroproductividad, 11(11), 53–58.

Das, P., Mukherjee, S., & Sen, R. (2008). Genetic regulations of the biosynthesis of microbial surfactants: An overview. Biotechnology and Genetic Enginee ring Reviews, 25, 165–186.

Desai, J. D., & Banat, I. M. (1997). Microbial production of surfactants and their commercial potential. Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews, 61(1), 47–64.

Diaz, D. G. C., Carrasco, I. R. Z., Lozano, J. C., & Cahuich, J. I. Á. (2011). Legio nelosis, una enfermedad olvidada en México. Revista de Enfermedades Infecciosas en Pediatría, 24, 39–42.

Edelstein, P. H., & Lück, C. (2015). Legionella. In: Jorgensen, J., Pfaller, M., Carroll, K., Funke, G., Landry, M., Richter, S., & Warnock, D. (Ed.). Manual of clinical microbiology. Eleventh edition. ASM Press, Washington. Pp. 887–904.

Forján, L. E., García, O. M. M., Piñero, M. Á., Forján, D. M., & Carrasco, Z. R. (2016). Considerations on updating the Spanish legislation on legionelosis. Ars Pharmaceutica, 57(1), 11–22.

Gaia, V., Casati, S., & Tonolla, M. (2011). Rapid identification of Legionella spp. by MALDI-TOF MS based protein mass fingerprinting. Systematic and Applied Microbiology, 34(1), 40–44.

García, D. V. I., & Martínez, A. E. (2014). Legionella infections. Medicine-Pro grama de Formación Médica Continuada Acreditado, 11(52), 3063–3067.

Gautam, K. K., & Tyagi, V. K. (2006). Microbial surfactants: A review. Journal of Oleo Science, 55(4), 155–166.

Gea, I. E. (2011). Legionnaires’ disease prevention in water cooling systems. Dyna, 78(165), 9–17.

Gea, I. E. (2015). Legionellosis: A new reality in the Republic of Ecuador? Revista Salud Uninorte, 31(2), 385–393.

Gea, I. E. (2018). Water disinfection methods and their affect on legionelosis. Tecnología y Ciencias del Agua, 9(3), 29–46.

Gea, I. E., & Loza, M. M. (2012). Water quality and health: Biofilms and Legionella. Journal of the Selva Andina Research Society, 3(2), 45–51.

Gea, I. E., Mezones, H. E., & Haro, G. L. (2012). Actions for legionellosis preven tion and control: A challenge for public health in Spain. Revista Peruana de Medicina Experimental y Salud Pública, 29, 272–276.

Gharaei, F. E. (2010). Biosurfactants in pharmaceutical industry: A mini-review. American Journal of Drug Discovery and Development, 1, 58–69.

Hampton, L. M., Garrison, L., Kattan, J., Brown, E., Kozak, M. N. A., Lucas, C., & Waterman, S. (2016). Legionnaires' disease outbreak at a resort in Cozu mel, Mexico. Open Forum Infectious Diseases, 3(3), ofw170.

Haro, A. J., Nubes, G., & Calderón, O. J. R. (2012). Riesgos sanitarios en calidad microbiológica del agua. Una evaluación en 10 estados de la república mexicana. Región y Sociedad, 24(3), 257–288.

Herwaldt, L. A., & Marra, A. R. (2018). Legionella: A reemerging pathogen. Cur rent Opinion in Infectious Diseases, 31(4), 325–333.

ISO International Organization for Standardization (1998). ISO 11731:1998. Water quality – Detection and enumeration of Legionella.

ISO International Organization for Standardization (2004). ISO 11731-2:2004. Water quality – Detection and enumeration of Legionella – Part 2: Direct membrane filtration method for waters with low bacterial counts.

Khodr, A., Kay, E., Gomez, V. L., Ginevra, C., Doublet, P., Buchrieser, C., & Jarraud, S. (2016). Molecular epidemiology, phylogeny and evolution of Legionella. Infection, genetics and evolution, 43, 108–122.

Kiran, G. S., Sabarathnam, B., & Selvin, J. (2010). Biofilm disruption potential of a glycolipid biosurfactant from marine Brevibacterium casei. FEMS Immu nology and Medical Microbiology, 59(3), 432–438.

Loret, J. F., Robert, S., Thomas, V., Levi, Y., Cooper, A. J., & McCoy, W. F. (2005). Comparison of disinfectants for biofilm, protozoa and Legionella control. Journal of Water and Health, 3, 423–433.

Lösch, L. S., & Merino, L. A. (2016). Presence of Legionella spp. in household drinking water reservoirs in Resistencia, Chaco, Argentina. Preliminary report. Revista Argentina de Microbiología, 48(4), 329–332.

Lu, J., Struewing, I., Vereen, E., Kirby, A. E., Levy, K., Moe, C., & Ashbolt, N. (2016). Molecular detection of Legionella spp. and their associations with Mycobacterium spp., Pseudomonas aeruginosa and amoeba hosts in a drin king water distribution system. Journal of Applied Microbiology, 120(2), 509–521.

Manzanares, L. G. L., Montiel, B. N. M., Del Real, S. S. G. M. E., & Flores, C. R. I. (2014). Detection of Legionella pneumophila in the water supply systems at the Autonomous University of the State of Mexico’s (UAEM) Faculty of Dentistry. Revista ADM, 71(5), 216–220.

Marchant, R., & Banat, I. M. (2012). Microbial biosurfactants: Challenges and op portunities for future exploitation. Trends in Biotechnology, 30(11), 558–565.

Morita, T., Ishibashi, Y., Fukuoka, T., Imura, T., Sakai, H., Abe, M., & Kitamoto, D. (2009). Production of glycolipid biosurfactants, mannosylerythritol lipids, by a smut fungus, Ustilago scitaminea NBRC 32730. Bioscience, Biotech nology, and Biochemistry, 73(3), 788–792.

Navia, D. P., Villada, H. S., & Mosquera, S. A. (2010). Biofilms in the food industry. Biotecnología en el Sector Agropecuario y Agroindustrial, 8(2), 118–128.

Nitschke, M., & Costa, S. G. V. A. O. (2007). Biosurfactants in food industry. Trends in Food Science and Technology, 18(5), 252–259.

Nuvia, L., Sánchez, S. E., & Ortiz, H. M. L. (2014). Biosurfactantes y su papel en la biorremediación de suelos contaminados con plaguicidas. Revista Latino americana de Biotecnología Ambiental y Algal, 5(1), 47–67.

Pelaz, A. C. (2006). Methods for Legionella detection. Revista de Salud Ambien tal, 6, 80–84.

Rahman, K. S. M., & Gakpe, E. (2008). Production, characterization and applica tions of biosurfactants – Review. Biotechnology, 7(2), 360–370.

Raphael, B. H., Baker, D. J., Nazarian, E., Lapierre, P., Bopp, D., Kozak Muizni eks, N. A., & Winchell, J. M. (2016). Genomic resolution of outbreak-asso ciated Legionella pneumophila serogroup 1 isolates from New York State. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 82(12), 3582–3590.

Reis, R. S., Pereira, A. G., Neves, B. C., & Freire, D. M. (2011). Gene regulation of rhamnolipid production in Pseudomonas aeruginosa – a review. Bioresource Technology, 102(11), 6377–6384.

Ripollés, A. A., Solís, I., Ferrer, C., Jiménez, M., & Roríguez, G. (2015). On-site monitoring and detection system for Legionella in waters. Tecnoaqua, 11, 76–81.

Ripollés, A. C., & Rodríguez, J. J. J. (2018). Biofilms: Survival of microorga nisms, invisible danger in food. Catalan food safety agency. Generalitat de Catalunya, Agencia de Salut Publica de Catalunya.

Rodrigues, L. R., & Teixeira, J. A. (2010). Biomedical and therapeutic applicati ons of biosurfactants. In: Sen, R. (Ed.). Biosurfactants. Springer, New York. Pp. 75–87.

Rodrigues, L., Banat, I. M., Teixeira, J., & Oliveira, R. (2006). Biosurfactants: Potential applications in medicine. Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, 57(4), 609–618.

Rodrıguez, M. S., Blanky, M., Friedler, E., & Halpern, M. (2015). Legionella spp. isolation and quantification from greywater. MethodsX, 2, 458–462.

Rojas, I. I., & Figueras, S. M. J. (2006). Microbiological and sampling criteria established in the present Spanish legislation for the control of Legionella. Revista de Salud Ambiental, 6, 89–91.

Romero, C. R. (2007). Microbiología y parasitología humana: Bases etiológicas de las enfermedades infecciosas y parasitarias. Editorial Medica Panamerica na, México.

Ron, E. Z., & Rosenberg, E. (2001). Natural roles of biosurfactants. Environmen tal Microbiology, 3(4), 229–236.

Saharan, B. S., Sahu, R. K., & Sharma, D. (2011). A review on biosurfactants: Fermentation, current developments and perspectives. Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology Journal, 1, 1–14.

SE (2018). Secretaría de Economia. Normas Oficiales Mexicanas. Gobierno de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos. Secretary of Economy. Official Mexican Standards, Government of the United Mexican States.

Sharma, D., Gupta, E., Singh, J., Vyas, P., & Dhanjal, D. S. (2018). Microbial biosurfactants in food sanitation. In: Galanakis, C. M. (Ed.). Sustainable food systems from agriculture to industry. Academic Press. Pp. 341–368.

Singh, P., & Cameotra, S. S. (2004). Potential applications of microbial surfactants in biomedical sciences. Trends in Biotechnology, 22(3), 142–146.

Slow, S., Anderson, T., Biggs, P., Kennedy, M., Murdoch, D., & Cree, S. (2018). Complete genome sequence of Legionella sainthelensi isolated from a patient with legionnaires’ disease. Genome Announcements, 6(5), e01588-17.

Soberon-Chavez, G., & Maier, R. M. (2011). Biosurfactants: A general overview. In: Soberon-Chavez, G. (Ed.). Biosurfactants. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg. Pp. 1–11.

Tilahun, A., Haddis, S., Teshale, A., & Hadush, T. (2016). Review on biofilm and microbial adhesion. International Journal of Microbiological Research, 7(3), 63–73.

Ulloa, M. T. (2008). Legionella pneumophila. Revista Chilena de Infectología, 25(3), 208.

USDHHS (2005). Procedures for the recovery of Legionella from the environ ment. Public Health Service. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). National Center for Infectious Diseases. Division of Bacterial and Mycotic Diseases. Respiratory Disease Laboratory Section. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

WHO (2018). Legionellosis. Health topics. World Health Organization.

Yamaguchi, N., Tokunaga, Y., Goto, S., Fujii, Y., Banno, F., & Edagawa, A. (2017). Rapid on-site monitoring of Legionella pneumophila in cooling tower water using a portable microfluidic system. Scientific Reports, 7(1), 3092.

How to Cite
Cortés-Sánchez , A. D. J. (2019). Legionella, water and biotechnology . Regulatory Mechanisms in Biosystems, 10(1), 117-123. https://doi.org/10.15421/021918