Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology

, Volume 98, Issue 10, pp 4723–4736 | Cite as

Microbial biogeography across a full-scale wastewater treatment plant transect: evidence for immigration between coupled processes

  • George F. Wells
  • Cindy H. Wu
  • Yvette M. Piceno
  • Brad Eggleston
  • Eoin L. Brodie
  • Todd Z. DeSantis
  • Gary L. Andersen
  • Terry C. Hazen
  • Christopher A. Francis
  • Craig S. Criddle
Environmental biotechnology


Wastewater treatment plants use a variety of bioreactor types and configurations to remove organic matter and nutrients. Little is known regarding the effects of different configurations and within-plant immigration on microbial community dynamics. Previously, we found that the structure of ammonia-oxidizing bacterial (AOB) communities in a full-scale dispersed growth activated sludge bioreactor correlated strongly with levels of NO2 entering the reactor from an upstream trickling filter. Here, to further examine this puzzling association, we profile within-plant microbial biogeography (spatial variation) and test the hypothesis that substantial microbial immigration occurs along a transect (raw influent, trickling filter biofilm, trickling filter effluent, and activated sludge) at the same full-scale wastewater treatment plant. AOB amoA gene abundance increased >30-fold between influent and trickling filter effluent concomitant with NO2 production, indicating unexpected growth and activity of AOB within the trickling filter. Nitrosomonas europaea was the dominant AOB phylotype in trickling filter biofilm and effluent, while a distinct “Nitrosomonas-like” lineage dominated in activated sludge. Prior time series indicated that this “Nitrosomonas-like” lineage was dominant when NO2 levels in the trickling filter effluent (i.e., activated sludge influent) were low, while N. europaea became dominant in the activated sludge when NO2 levels were high. This is consistent with the hypothesis that NO2 production may cooccur with biofilm sloughing, releasing N. europaea from the trickling filter into the activated sludge bioreactor. Phylogenetic microarray (PhyloChip) analyses revealed significant spatial variation in taxonomic diversity, including a large excess of methanogens in the trickling filter relative to activated sludge and attenuation of Enterobacteriaceae across the transect, and demonstrated transport of a highly diverse microbial community via the trickling filter effluent to the activated sludge bioreactor. Our results provide compelling evidence that substantial immigration between coupled process units occurs and may exert significant influence over microbial community dynamics within staged bioreactors.


Activated sludge Ammonia-oxidizing bacteria Immigration PhyloChip Sloughing Trickling filter 

Supplementary material

253_2014_5564_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (531 kb)
ESM 1(PDF 530 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • George F. Wells
    • 1
    • 8
  • Cindy H. Wu
    • 2
  • Yvette M. Piceno
    • 2
  • Brad Eggleston
    • 3
  • Eoin L. Brodie
    • 2
  • Todd Z. DeSantis
    • 2
    • 4
  • Gary L. Andersen
    • 2
  • Terry C. Hazen
    • 5
    • 6
  • Christopher A. Francis
    • 7
  • Craig S. Criddle
    • 1
  1. 1.Civil and Environmental EngineeringStanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  2. 2.Earth Sciences DivisionLawrence Berkeley National LaboratoryBerkeleyUSA
  3. 3.Palo Alto Regional Water Quality Control PlantPalo AltoUSA
  4. 4.Second Genome, Inc.San FranciscoUSA
  5. 5.Civil and Environmental EngineeringUniversity of TennesseeKnoxvilleUSA
  6. 6.Biosciences DivisionOak Ridge National LaboratoryOak RidgeUSA
  7. 7.Environmental Earth System ScienceStanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  8. 8.Department of Civil and Environmental EngineeringNorthwestern UniversityEvanstonUSA

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