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Seasonal influences on the use of genetic markers as performance indicators for small wastewater treatment plants

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Josh Bunce, Aidan Robson, Professor David Graham



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-ND).


The development of microbial source tracking methods has resulted in an array of genetic faecal markers for assessing human health risks posed from surface water pollution. However, their use as performance metrics at wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) has not been explored extensively. Here we compared three Bacteroides (HF183, HumM2, AllBac) and two E. coli (H8, RodA) genetic markers for summer and winter performance monitoring at twelve small rural (<250 PE) and three larger WWTPs in NE England. Small WWTPs are of interest because they are poorly understood and their impact on surface water quality may be underestimated. Overall, genetic marker data showed significant differences in treatment performance at smaller versus larger WWTPs. For example, effluent abundances of HF183 and HumM2 were significantly higher in smaller systems (p = 0.003 for HumM2; p = 0.02 for HF183). Genetic markers also showed significant differences in performance between seasons (p < 0.01, n = 120), with human-specific markers (i.e., HF183, HumM2, H8) being generally better for summer WWTP monitoring. In contrast, Bacteroides markers were much more suitable for winter monitoring, possibly because the E. coli markers are less sensitive to differences in temperature and sunlight conditions. Overall, Bacteroides markers best described WWTP treatment performance across all samples, although seasonal differences suggest caution is needed when markers are used for performance monitoring. Genetic markers definitely provide rapid and new information about WWTP performance, but more spatially diverse studies are needed to refine their use for routine WWTP monitoring.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Bunce JT, Robson A, Graham DW

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Science of the Total Environment

Year: 2020

Volume: 739

Print publication date: 15/10/2020

Online publication date: 05/06/2020

Acceptance date: 01/06/2020

Date deposited: 23/06/2020

ISSN (print): 0048-9697

ISSN (electronic): 1879-1026

Publisher: Elsevier


DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.139928


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