Using amplicon sequencing to characterize and monitor bacterial diversity in drinking water distribution systems

Jennifer L.A. Shaw, Paul Monis, Laura S. Weyrich, Emma Sawade, Mary Drikas, Alan J. Cooper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


Drinking water assessments use a variety of microbial, physical, and chemical indicators to evaluate water treatment efficiency and product water quality. However, these indicators do not allow the complex biological communities, which can adversely impact the performance of drinking water distribution systems (DWDSs), to be characterized. Entire bacterial communities can be studied quickly and inexpensively using targeted metagenomic amplicon sequencing. Here, amplicon sequencing of the 16S rRNA gene region was performed alongside traditional water quality measures to assess the health, quality, and efficiency of two distinct, full-scale DWDSs: (i) a linear DWDS supplied with unfiltered water subjected to basic disinfection before distribution and (ii) a complex, branching DWDS treated by a four-stage water treatment plant (WTP) prior to disinfection and distribution. In both DWDSs bacterial communities differed significantly after disinfection, demonstrating the effectiveness of both treatment regimes. However, bacterial repopulation occurred further along in the DWDSs, and some end-user samples were more similar to the source water than to the postdisinfection water. Three sample locations appeared to be nitrified, displaying elevated nitrate levels and decreased ammonia levels, and nitrifying bacterial species, such as Nitrospira, were detected. Burkholderiales were abundant in samples containing large amounts of monochloramine, indicating resistance to disinfection. Genera known to contain pathogenic and fecal-associated species were also identified in several locations. From this study, we conclude that metagenomic amplicon sequencing is an informative method to support current compliance-based methods and can be used to reveal bacterial community interactions with the chemical and physical properties of DWDSs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6463-6473
Number of pages11
JournalApplied and environmental microbiology
Issue number18
StatePublished - 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biotechnology
  • Food Science
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
  • Ecology


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