Diversity and Biogeography of Microbial Communities in Engineered Systems

Prof. George Wells, Assistant Professor in Environmental Engineering, and his research group have collaborated on a recent publication in Nature Microbiology. The article, titled “Global diversity and biogeography of bacterial communities in wastewater treatment plants”, is a study of the microorganisms in wastewater treatment plants, which are essential for water purification to protect public and environmental health.

The study analyzed “the 16S ribosomal RNA gene sequences from ~1,200 activated sludge samples taken from 269 WWTPs in 23 countries on 6 continents”, finding that the global activated sludge bacterial communities contain  ~1  billion  bacterial  phylotypes  with  a  Poisson  lognormal  diversity  distribution. Despite  this  high  diversity,  activated  sludge  has  a  small,  global  core  bacterial  community  that  is  strongly  linked  to  process performance. Meta-analyses with global datasets associate the activated sludge microbiomes most closely to freshwater populations. Activated sludge bacterial communities show no latitudinal gradient. Furthermore, their spatial turnover is scale-dependent and appears to be largely driven by stochastic processes (dispersal and drift), although deterministic factors (temperature and organic input) are also important.

These findings enhance overall understanding of the global diversity and biogeography of activated sludge bacterial communities within a theoretical ecology framework. In turn, this has important implications for microbial ecology and wastewater treatment processes.

To read the full article, click here.