Improving the rate and extent of faecal decomposition in basic forms of sanitation such as pit latrines would benefit around 1.7 billion users worldwide, but to do so requires a major advance in our understanding of the biology of these systems. As a critical first step, bacterial diversity and composition was studied in 30 latrines in Tanzania and Vietnam using pyrosequencing of 16S rRNA genes, and correlated with a number of intrinsic environmental factors such as pH, temperature, organic matter content/composition and geographical factors. Clear differences were observed at the operational taxonomic unit, family and phylum level in terms of richness and community composition between latrines in Tanzania and Vietnam. The results also clearly show that environmental variables, particularly substrate type and availability, can exert a strong structuring influence on bacterial communities in latrines from both countries. The origins and significance of these environmental differences are discussed. This work describes the bacterial ecology of pit latrines in combination with inherent latrine characteristics at an unprecedented level of detail. As such, it provides useful baseline information for future studies that aim to understand the factors that affect decomposition rates in pit latrines.
© 2015 The Authors. Microbial Biotechnology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd and Society for Applied Microbiology.