Characterisation of the sewage virome: comparison of NGS tools and occurrence of significant pathogens

Sci Total Environ. 2020 Apr 15;713:136604. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.136604. Epub 2020 Jan 8.


NGS techniques are excellent tools to monitor and identify viral pathogens circulating among the population with some limitations that need to be overcome, especially in complex matrices. Sewage contains a high amount of other microorganisms that could interfere when trying to sequence viruses for which random PCR amplifications are needed before NGS. The selection of appropriate NGS tools is important for reliable identification of viral diversity among the population. We have compared different NGS methodologies (Untargeted Viral Metagenomics, Target Enrichment Sequencing and Amplicon Deep Sequencing) for the detection and characterisation of viruses in urban sewage, focusing on three important human pathogens: papillomaviruses, adenoviruses and enteroviruses. A full picture of excreted viruses was obtained by applying Untargeted Viral Metagenomics, which detected members of four different vertebrate viral families in addition to bacteriophages, plant viruses and viruses infecting other hosts. Target Enrichment Sequencing, using specific vertebrate viral probes, allowed the detection of up to eight families containing human viruses, with high variety of types within the families and with a high genome coverage. By applying Amplicon Deep Sequencing, the diversity of enteroviruses, adenoviruses and papillomaviruses observed was higher than when applying the other two strategies and this technique allowed the subtyping of an enterovirus A71 C1 strain related to a brainstem encephalitis outbreak occurring at the same time in the sampling area. From the data obtained, we concluded that the different strategies studied provided different levels of analysis: TES is the best strategy to obtain a broad picture of human viruses present in complex samples such as sewage. Other NGS strategies are useful for studying the virome of complex samples when also targeting viruses infecting plants, bacteria, invertebrates or fungi (Untargeted Viral Metagenomics) or when observing the variety within a sole viral family is the objective of the study (Amplicon Deep Sequencing).

Keywords: Adenovirus; Amplicon Deep Sequencing; Enterovirus; Papillomavirus; Sewage virome; Target Enrichment Sequencing.

MeSH terms

  • Bacteriophages
  • High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing
  • Metagenomics
  • Sewage*
  • Viruses


  • Sewage