Amplicon-based profiling of bacteria in raw and secondary treated wastewater from treatment plants across Australia

Warish Ahmed, Christopher Staley, Jatinder Sidhu, Michael Sadowsky, Simon Toze

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


In this study, we investigated the use of Illumina high-throughput sequencing of 16S ribosomal RNA (rRNA) amplicons to explore microbial diversity and community structure in raw and secondary treated wastewater (WW) samples from four municipal wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs A–D) across Australia. Sequence reads were analyzed to determine the abundance and diversity of bacterial communities in raw and secondary treated WW samples across the four WWTPs. In addition, sequence reads were also characterized to phenotypic features and to estimate the abundance of potential pathogenic bacterial genera and antibiotic-resistant genes in total bacterial communities. The mean coverage, Shannon diversity index, observed richness (Sobs), and abundance-based coverage estimate (ACE) of richness for raw and secondary treated WW samples did not differ significantly (P > 0.05) among the four WWTPs examined. Generally, raw and secondary treated WW samples were dominated by members of the genera Pseudomonas, Arcobacter, and Bacteroides. Evaluation of source contributions to secondary treated WW, done using SourceTracker, revealed that 8.80–61.4% of the bacterial communities in secondary treated WW samples were attributed to raw WW. Twenty-five bacterial genera were classified as containing potential bacterial pathogens. The abundance of potentially pathogenic genera in raw WW samples was higher than that found in secondary treated WW samples. Among the pathogenic genera identified, Pseudomonas and Arcobacter had the greatest percentage of the sequence reads. The abundances of antibiotic resistance genes were generally low (<0.5%), except for genes encoding ABC transporters, which accounted for approximately 3% of inferred genes. These findings provided a comprehensive profile of bacterial communities, including potential bacterial pathogens and antibiotic-resistant genes, in raw and secondary treated WW samples from four WWTPs across Australia and demonstrated that Illumina high-throughput sequencing can be an alternative approach for monitoring WW quality in order to protect environmental and human health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1253-1266
Number of pages14
JournalApplied Microbiology and Biotechnology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The information used in this paper comes from results of a research project funded by the Australian Centre of Excellence (NATVAL 2.2 subproject 3). Sequence processing and analyses were performed in part using resources of the Minnesota Supercomputing Institute.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016, Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.


  • 16S rRNA amplicons
  • Health risks
  • Next-generation sequencing
  • Pathogenic bacteria
  • Wastewater treatment plant


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