Structure and Functional Attributes of Bacterial Communities in Premise Plumbing Across the United States

Environ Sci Technol. 2021 Oct 19;55(20):14105-14114. doi: 10.1021/acs.est.1c03309. Epub 2021 Oct 4.


Microbes that thrive in premise plumbing can have potentially important effects on human health. Yet, how and why plumbing-associated microbial communities vary across broad spatial scales remain undetermined. We characterized the bacterial communities in 496 showerheads collected from across the continental United States. The overall community structure, determined by 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing, revealed high levels of bacterial diversity. Although a large fraction of the observed variation in community composition could not be explained, differences in bacterial community composition were associated with water supply (private well water vs public municipal water), water source (groundwater vs surface water), and associated differences in water chemistry (pH and chlorine). Most notably, showerheads in homes supplied with public water had higher abundances of Blastomonas, Mycobacterium, and Porphyrobacter, while Pseudorhodoplanes, Novosphingobium, and Nitrospira were more abundant in those receiving private well water. We conducted shotgun metagenomic analyses on 92 of these samples to assess differences in genomic attributes. Public water-sourced showerheads had communities enriched in genes related to lipid and xenobiotic metabolisms, virulence factors, and antibiotic resistance. In contrast, genes associated with oxidative stress and membrane transporters were over-represented in communities from private well water-sourced showerheads compared to those supplied by public water systems. These results highlight the broad diversity of bacteria found in premise plumbing across the United States and the role of the water source and treatment in shaping the microbial community structure and functional potential.

Keywords: drinking water; metagenomics; microbial ecology; premise plumbing; water supply.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Drinking Water*
  • Humans
  • Mycobacterium*
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Sanitary Engineering
  • United States
  • Water Microbiology


  • Drinking Water
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S