Comparison of Sewage and Animal Fecal Microbiomes by Using Oligotyping Reveals Potential Human Fecal Indicators in Multiple Taxonomic Groups. Academic Article uri icon


  • Most DNA-based microbial source tracking (MST) approaches target host-associated organisms within the order Bacteroidales, but the gut microbiota of humans and other animals contain organisms from an array of other taxonomic groups that might provide indicators of fecal pollution sources. To discern between human and nonhuman fecal sources, we compared the V6 regions of the 16S rRNA genes detected in fecal samples from six animal hosts to those found in sewage (as a proxy for humans). We focused on 10 abundant genera and used oligotyping, which can detect subtle differences between rRNA gene sequences from ecologically distinct organisms. Our analysis showed clear patterns of differential oligotype distributions between sewage and animal samples. Over 100 oligotypes of human origin occurred preferentially in sewage samples, and 99 human oligotypes were sewage specific. Sequences represented by the sewage-specific oligotypes can be used individually for development of PCR-based assays or together with the oligotypes preferentially associated with sewage to implement a signature-based approach. Analysis of sewage from Spain and Brazil showed that the sewage-specific oligotypes identified in U.S. sewage have the potential to be used as global alternative indicators of human fecal pollution. Environmental samples with evidence of prior human fecal contamination had consistent ratios of sewage signature oligotypes that corresponded to the trends observed for sewage. Our methodology represents a promising approach to identifying new bacterial taxa for MST applications and further highlights the potential of the family Lachnospiraceae to provide human-specific markers. In addition to source tracking applications, the patterns of the fine-scale population structure within fecal taxa suggest a fundamental relationship between bacteria and their hosts.

publication date

  • October 2015