Comparison of the microbial community structures of untreated wastewaters from different geographic locales. Academic Article uri icon


  • Microbial sewage communities consist of a combination of human fecal microorganisms and nonfecal microorganisms, which may be residents of urban sewer infrastructure or flowthrough originating from gray water or rainwater inputs. Together, these different microorganism sources form an identifiable community structure that may serve as a signature for sewage discharges and as candidates for alternative indicators specific for human fecal pollution. However, the structure and variability of this community across geographic space remains uncharacterized. We used massively parallel 454 pyrosequencing of the V6 region in 16S rRNA genes to profile microbial communities from 13 untreated sewage influent samples collected from a wide range of geographic locations in the United States. We obtained a total of 380,175 high-quality sequences for sequence-based clustering, taxonomic analyses, and profile comparisons. The sewage profile included a discernible core human fecal signature made up of several abundant taxonomic groups within Firmicutes, Bacteroidetes, Actinobacteria, and Proteobacteria. DNA sequences were also classified into fecal, sewage infrastructure (i.e., nonfecal), and transient groups based on data comparisons with fecal samples. Across all sewage samples, an estimated 12.1% of sequences were fecal in origin, while 81.4% were consistently associated with the sewage infrastructure. The composition of feces-derived operational taxonomic units remained congruent across all sewage samples regardless of geographic locale; however, the sewage infrastructure community composition varied among cities, with city latitude best explaining this variation. Together, these results suggest that untreated sewage microbial communities harbor a core group of fecal bacteria across geographically dispersed wastewater sewage lines and that ambient water quality indicators targeting these select core microorganisms may perform well across the United States.

publication date

  • May 2013