Tracking human sewage microbiome in a municipal wastewater treatment plant

Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. 2014 Apr;98(7):3317-26. doi: 10.1007/s00253-013-5402-z. Epub 2013 Dec 5.


Human sewage pollution is a major threat to public health because sewage always comes with pathogens. Human sewage is usually received and treated by wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) to control pathogenic risks and ameliorate environmental health. However, untreated sewage that flows into water environments may cause serious waterborne diseases, as reported in India and Bangladesh. To examine the fate of the human sewage microbiome in a local municipal WWTP of Hong Kong, we used massively parallel sequencing of 16S rRNA gene to systematically profile microbial communities in samples from three sections (i.e., influent, activated sludge, and effluent) obtained monthly throughout 1 year. The results indicated that: (1) influent sewage bacterial profile reflected the human microbiome; (2) human gut bacterial community was the dominant force shaping influent sewage bacterial profile; (3) most human sewage bacteria could be effectively removed by the WWTP; (4) a total of 75 genera were profiled as potentially pathogenic bacteria, most of which were still present in the effluent although at a very low level; (5) a grouped pattern of bacterial community was observed among the same section samples but a dispersed pattern was found among the different section samples; and (6) activated sludge was less affected by the influent sewage bacteria, but it showed a significant impact on the effluent bacteria. All of these findings provide novel insights toward a mechanistic understanding of the fate of human sewage microbiome in the WWTP.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / classification*
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Cluster Analysis
  • DNA, Bacterial / chemistry
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • DNA, Ribosomal / chemistry
  • DNA, Ribosomal / genetics
  • Hong Kong
  • Humans
  • Metagenome*
  • Microbiota*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Phylogeny
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Sewage / microbiology*
  • Water Purification / methods*


  • DNA, Bacterial
  • DNA, Ribosomal
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S
  • Sewage