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Spatial Variation of the Microbial Community Structure of On-Site Soil Treatment Units in a Temperate Climate, and the Role of Pre-treatment of Domestic Effluent in the Development of the Biomat Community

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Thomas CurtisORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Copyright © 2022 Criado Monleon, Knappe, Somlai, Betancourth, Ali, Curtis and Gill. The growth of microbial mats or “biomats” has been identified as an essential component in the attenuation of pollutants within the soil treatment unit (STU) of conventional on-site wastewater treatment systems (OWTSs). This study aimed to characterize the microbial community which colonizes these niches and to determine the influence of the pre-treatment of raw-domestic wastewater on these communities. This was achieved through a detailed sampling campaign of two OWTSs. At each site, the STU areas were split whereby half received effluent directly from septic tanks, and half received more highly treated effluents from packaged aerobic treatment systems [a coconut husk media filter on one site, and a rotating biodisc contactor (RBC) on the other site]. Effluents from the RBC had a higher level of pre-treatment [~90% Total Organic Carbon (TOC) removal], compared to the media filter (~60% TOC removal). A total of 92 samples were obtained from both STU locations and characterized by 16S rRNA gene sequencing analysis. The fully treated effluent from the RBC resulted in greater microbial community richness and diversity within the STUs compared to the STUs receiving partially treated effluents. The microbial community structure found within the STU receiving fully treated effluents was significantly different from its septic tank, primary effluent counterpart. Moreover, the distance along each STU appears to have a greater impact on the community structure than the depth in each STU. Our findings highlight the spatial variability of diversity, Phylum- and Genus-level taxa, and functional groups within the STUs, which supports the assumption that specialized biomes develop around the application of effluents under different degrees of treatment and distance from the source. This research indicates that the application of pre-treated effluents infers significant changes in the microbial community structure, which in turn has important implications for the functionality of the STU, and consequently the potential risks to public health and the environment.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Criado Monleon AJ, Knappe J, Somlai C, Betancourth CO, Ali M, Curtis TP, Gill LW

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Frontiers in Microbiology

Year: 2022

Volume: 13

Online publication date: 24/06/2022

Acceptance date: 16/05/2022

Date deposited: 27/07/2022

ISSN (electronic): 1664-302X

Publisher: Frontiers Research Foundation


DOI: 10.3389/fmicb.2022.915856


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