Pathogenic bacteria in wastewater are generally considered to be efficiently removed in biological wastewater treatment plants. This understanding is almost solely based on culture-based control measures, and here we show, by applying culture-independent methods, that the removal of species in the genus Arcobacter was less effective than for many other abundant genera in the influent wastewater. Arcobacter was one of the most abundant genera in influent wastewater at 14 municipal wastewater treatment plants and was also abundant in the “clean” effluent from all the plants, reaching up to 30% of all bacteria as analyzed by 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing. Metagenomic analyses, culturing, genome sequencing of Arcobacter isolates, and visualization by fluorescent in situ hybridization (FISH) confirmed the presence of the human-pathogenic Arcobacter cryaerophilus and A. butzleri in both influent and effluent. The main reason for the high relative abundance in the effluent was probably that Arcobacter cells, compared to those of other abundant genera in the influent, did not flocculate and attach well to the activated sludge flocs, leaving a relatively large fraction dispersed in the water phase. The study shows there is an urgent need for new standardized culture-independent measurements of pathogens in effluent wastewaters, e.g., amplicon sequencing, and an investigation of the problem on a global scale to quantify the risk for humans and livestock.
Bibliographical noteCopyright © 2020 American Society for Microbiology.
- Activated sludge
- Full-scale wastewater treatment plants
- Removal efficiency