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Microbial community response on wastewater discharge in boreal lake sediments

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Original languageEnglish
Article number750
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Publication statusPublished - 2017
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


Despite high performance, municipal wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) still discharge significant amounts of organic material and nitrogen and even microbes into the receiving water bodies, altering physico-chemical conditions and microbial functions. In this study, we examined how nitrified wastewater affects the microbiology of boreal lake sediments. Microbial community compositions were assessed with next generation sequencing of the 16S rRNA gene, and a more detailed view on nitrogen transformation processes was gained with qPCR targeting on functional genes (nirS, nirK, nosZI, nosZII, amoAarchaea, and amoAbacteria). In both of the two studied lake sites, the microbial community composition differed significantly between control point and wastewater discharge point, and a gradual shift toward natural community composition was seen downstream following the wastewater gradient. SourceTracker analysis predicted that ∼2% of sediment microbes were of WWTP-origin on the study site where wastewater was freely mixed with the lake water, while when wastewater was specially discharged to the sediment surface, ∼6% of microbes originated from WWTP, but the wastewater-influenced area was more limited. In nitrogen transformation processes, the ratio between nitrifying archaea (AOA) and bacteria (AOB) was affected by wastewater effluent, as the AOA abundance decreased from the control point (AOA:AOB 28:1 in Keuruu, 11:1 in Petäjävesi) to the wastewater-influenced sampling points, where AOB dominated (AOA:AOB 1:2–1:15 in Keuruu, 1:3–1:19 in Petäjävesi). The study showed that wastewater can affect sediment microbial community through importing nutrients and organic material and altering habitat characteristics, but also through bringing wastewater-originated microbes to the sediment, and may thus have significant impact on the freshwater biogeochemistry, especially in the nutrient-poor boreal ecosystems.

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