First worldwide study to understand the sludge microbiome in wastewater

Wastewater is treated by an activated sludge process in municipal wastewater treatment plants and returned to the environment for use. This treatment process has been used for more than a century, and today represents the largest application of biotechnology in the world. However, there has been no effort to map the global activated sludge microbiome.

A recently published study, reports the first comprehensive, highly coordinated effort to examine the global diversity and biogeography of this microbiome. Jizhon Zhou, a professor of microbiology at the University of Oklahoma and Berkeley Lab adjunct senior scientist states: “The campaign involved 111 investigators who sampled 269 wastewater treatment plants in 86 cities in 23 countries on six continents. The researchers found a highly diverse activated microbiome, containing up to one billion microbial phylotypes comprised of novel species.

Lisa Alvarez-Cohen, a co-author and adjunct senior scientist at Berkeley Lab said:  “This expansive study is the first time that a systematic study of the hugely beneficial microbial communities involved in the biological treatment of daily wastewaters from communities around the world have been undertaken in order to understand their fundamental structure and function. It represents an important development in understanding and maintaining these crucial microbial communities.”