Microbial diversity, ecological networks and functional traits associated to materials used in drinking water distribution systems

Water Res. 2020 Apr 15;173:115586. doi: 10.1016/j.watres.2020.115586. Epub 2020 Feb 5.


Drinking water distribution systems host complex microbial communities as biofilms that interact continuously with delivered water. Understanding the diversity, behavioural and functional characteristics will be a requisite for developing future monitoring strategies and protection against water-borne health risks. To improve understanding, this study investigates mobilisation and accumulation behaviour, microbial community structure and functional variations of biofilms developing on different pipe materials from within an operational network. Samples were collected from four pipes during a repeated flushing operation three months after an initial visit that used hydraulic forces to mobilise regenerating biofilms yet without impacting the upstream network. To minimise confounding factors, test sections were chosen with comparable daily hydraulic regimes, physical dimensions, and all connected straight of a common trunk main and within close proximity, hence similar water chemistry, pressure and age. Taxonomical results showed differences in colonising communities between pipe materials, with several genera, including the bacteria Pseudomonas and the fungi Cladosporium, present in every sample. Diverse bacterial communities dominated compared to more homogeneous fungal, or mycobiome, community distribution. The analysis of bacterial/fungal networks based on relative abundance of operational taxonomic units (OTUs) indicated microbial communities from cast iron pipes were more stable than communities from the non-ferrous pipe materials. Novel analysis of functional traits between all samples were found to be mainly associated to mobile genetic elements that play roles in determining links between cells, including phages, prophages, transposable elements, and plasmids. The use of functional traits can be considered for development in future surveillance methods, capable of delivering network condition information beyond that of limited conventional faecal indicator tests, that will help protect water quality and public health.

Keywords: Biofilms; Discolouration; Drinking water; Functional traits; Fungi-bacteria; Mobile genetic elements.

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria
  • Biofilms
  • Drinking Water*
  • Ecology
  • Water Microbiology
  • Water Quality
  • Water Supply


  • Drinking Water