Different engineering designs have profoundly different impacts on the microbiome and nitrifying bacterial populations in municipal wastewater treatment bioreactors

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5 Scopus citations


Numerous wastewater treatment processes are designed by engineers to achieve specific treatment goals. However, the impact of these different process designs on bacterial community composition is poorly understood. In this study, 24 different municipal wastewater treatment facilities (37 bioreactors) with various system designs were analyzed by sequencing of PCR-amplified 16S rRNA gene fragments. Although a core microbiome was observed in all of the bioreactors, the overall microbial community composition (analysis of molecular variance; P = 0.001) as well as that of a specific population of Nitrosomonas spp. ( P = 0.04) was significantly different between A/O (anaerobic/aerobic) systems and conventional activated sludge (CAS) systems. Community α-diversity (number of observed operational taxonomic units [OTUs] and Shannon diversity index) was also significantly higher in A/O systems than in CAS systems (Wilcoxon; P < 2 × 10 -16). In addition, wastewater bioreactors with short mean cell residence time (<2 days) had very low community α-diversity and fewer nitrifying bacteria compared to those of other system designs. Nitrospira spp. (0.71%) and Nitrotoga spp. (0.41%) were the most prominent nitrite-oxidizing bacteria (NOB); because these two genera were rarely prominent at the same time, these populations appeared to be functionally redundant. Weak evidence (AOB:NOB « 2; substantial quantities of Nitrospira sublineage II) was also obtained suggesting that complete ammonia oxidation by a single organism was occurring in system designs known to impose stringent nutrient limitation. This research demonstrates that design decisions made by wastewater treatment engineers significantly affect the microbiome of wastewater treatment bioreactors. IMPORTANCE Municipal wastewater treatment facilities rely on the application of numerous "activated sludge" process designs to achieve site-specific treatment goals. A plethora of microbiome studies on municipal wastewater treatment bioreactors have been performed previously; however, the role of process design on the municipal wastewater treatment microbiome is poorly understood. In fact, wastewater treatment engineers have attempted to control the microbiome of wastewater bioreactors for decades without sufficient empirical evidence to support their design paradigms. Our research demonstrates that engineering decisions with respect to system design have a significant impact on the microbiome of wastewater treatment bioreactors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalApplied and environmental microbiology
Issue number18
StatePublished - Aug 26 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Financial support was provided by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund. We thank the operators at the treatment facilities for collecting samples as well as Elizabeth Hill for technical assistance.

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2021 American Society for Microbiology. All Rights Reserved.


  • Nitrosomonas spp
  • Nitrospira spp
  • Nitrotoga spp
  • bioreactors
  • complete ammonia oxidation
  • microbiome
  • nitrifying bacteria
  • wastewater treatment

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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