Understanding Microbiomes for Next-Generation Wastewater Treatment Systems

For over a century, the use of microorganisms for wastewater treatment systems has been the largest application of biotechnology in the world. Activated microbiomes have been used to process sludge in municipal wastewater treatment systems before being returned to the environment. To date, there has been no information on the global impact of these microbiomes in the environment. A deeper understanding of the biodiversity of the activated sludge microbiome and its performance in treating waste is critical to advancing and optimizing this key technology for maintaining environmental health.

A study by the University of Oklahoma (OU) has assembled a team of experts from different disciplines to investigate the potential of using activated sludge microbiomes in next-generation wastewater treatment systems. The use of microbiomes will help facilitate a more effective wastewater treatment process particularly when the world’s population is expected to reach 10 billion in 2050.

The study is part of the Global Water Microbiome Consortium which was established in 2014 to promote international collaboration and communication on global research and education for water microbiomes. The team is composed of Jizhong Zhou, OU director, Institute for Environmental Genomics; George Lynn Cross Research Professor, OU College of Arts and Sciences; adjunct professor, Gallogly College of Engineering; adjunct senior scientist, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; and adjunct professor, Tsinghua University.

The scale of the research is vast. It involved 111 investigators who sampled 269 wastewater treatment plants in 86 cities and in 23 countries on six continents.

Their goal was to have the most comprehensive examination of global diversity and biogeography of the activated sludge microbiome.

Microbiomes are highly diverse organisms, containing up to a billion microbial phylotypes made up of several species. The team needed to determine the distinction between activated sludge microbiome from microbiomes in other habitats and what factors drive the composition and functions of the activated sludge communities.

Bruce Rittmann, director of the Biodesign Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology, Arizona State University has stated that “this unprecedented global sampling effort yielded new insight into the microbiology of activated sludge. Despite giant geographic differences, the microbial communities of activated sludge have a core of about 28 bacterial strains, which reflects the powerful and unique ecological selection of the activated sludge process.”

Other scientists supported this claim. Lisa Alvarez-Cohen, Fred and Claire Sauer Professor, University of California Berkeley, and adjunct senior scientist, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have said that “this expansive study is the first time that a systematic study of the hugely beneficial microbial communities involved in the biological treatment of daily wastewaters from communities around the world have been studied to understand their fundamental structure and function has been undertaken. It represents an important development in understanding and maintaining these crucial microbial communities.”

Their paper, “Global Diversity and Biogeography of the Bacterial Communities in Wastewater Treatment Plants,” was based on their findings from their research and has been published in Nature Microbiology. The significance of finding a more efficient way of processing sewage waste through a better understanding of microbiomes can help develop a more effective waste management system by the time the world population is estimated to hit 10 billion by 2050.

If you are a municipality in Ontario and in need of a biosolids management solution, please feel free to contact us at 1 (877) 479-1388.


Understanding Microbiomes for Next-Generation Wastewater Treatment Systems
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