Microbial ecology of drinking water distribution systems

Curr Opin Biotechnol. 2006 Jun;17(3):297-302. doi: 10.1016/j.copbio.2006.05.007. Epub 2006 May 15.


The supply of clean drinking water is a major, and relatively recent, public health milestone. Control of microbial growth in drinking water distribution systems, often achieved through the addition of disinfectants, is essential to limiting waterborne illness, particularly in immunocompromised subpopulations. Recent inquiries into the microbial ecology of distribution systems have found that pathogen resistance to chlorination is affected by microbial community diversity and interspecies relationships. Research indicates that multispecies biofilms are generally more resistant to disinfection than single-species biofilms. Other recent findings are the increased survival of the bacterial pathogen Legionella pneumophila when present inside its protozoan host Hartmannella vermiformis and the depletion of chloramine disinfectant residuals by nitrifying bacteria, leading to increased overall microbial growth. Interactions such as these are unaccounted for in current disinfection models. An understanding of the microbial ecology of distribution systems is necessary to design innovative and effective control strategies that will ensure safe and high-quality drinking water.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteria / pathogenicity*
  • Biodiversity
  • Biofilms
  • Drinking
  • Eukaryota / microbiology
  • Water Microbiology
  • Water Supply / analysis*