Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology

, Volume 102, Issue 16, pp 7159–7170 | Cite as

Decay of sewage-associated bacterial communities in fresh and marine environmental waters and sediment

  • Warish Ahmed
  • Christopher Staley
  • Thomas Kaiser
  • Michael J. Sadowsky
  • Sonya Kozak
  • David Beale
  • Stuart Simpson
Environmental biotechnology


Understanding the microbial quality of recreational waters is critical to effectively managing human health risks. In recent years, the development of new molecular methods has provided scientists with alternatives to the use of culture-based fecal indicator methods for investigating sewage contamination in recreational waters. Before these methods can be formalized into guidelines, however, we must investigate their utility, including strengths and weaknesses in different environmental media. In this study, we investigated the decay of sewage-associated bacterial communities in water and sediment from three recreational areas in Southeast Queensland, Australia. Outdoor mesocosms with water and sediment samples from two marine and one freshwater sites were inoculated with untreated sewage and sampled on days 0, 1, 4, 8, 14, 28, and 50. Amplicon sequencing was performed on the DNA extracted from water and sediment samples, and SourceTracker was used to determine the decay of sewage-associated bacterial communities and how they change following a contamination event. No sewage-associated operational taxonomic units (OTUs) were detected in water and sediment samples after day 4; however, the bacterial communities remained changed from their background measures, prior to sewage amendment. Following untreated sewage inoculation, the mesocosm that had the most diverse starting bacterial community recovered to about 60% of its initial community composition, whereas the least diverse bacterial community only recovered to about 30% of its initial community composition. This suggests that a more diverse bacterial community may play an important role in water quality outcomes after sewage contamination events. Further investigation into potential links between bacterial communities and measures of fecal indicators, pathogens, and microbial source tracking (MST) markers is warranted and may provide insight for recreational water decision-makers.


Amplicon DNA sequencing Decay Mesocosms Sewage contamination SourceTracker 



Our thanks to CSIRO Land and Water for funding this strategic project. Sequence processing and analyses were done using the resources of the Minnesota Supercomputing Institute.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical statement

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CSIRO Land and WaterEcosciences PrecinctDutton ParkAustralia
  2. 2.Biotechnology InstituteUniversity of MinnesotaSt. PaulUSA
  3. 3.Department of SurgeryUniversity of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA
  4. 4.School of MedicineGriffith UniversityGold CoastAustralia
  5. 5.CSIRO Land and WaterLucas HeightsAustralia

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