Metagenomic analysis of sludge and early-stage biofilm communities of a submerged membrane bioreactor

Zahid Ur Rehman, Luca Fortunato, Tuoyuan Cheng, TorOve Leiknes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Biofilm formation on membranes in activated sludge membrane bioreactors (MBR), commonly identified as biofouling, is a significant problem for MBR operations. A better understanding of microbial species involved in the biofilm formation is needed to develop anti-biofilm measures. A read-based and genome-resolved shotgun metagenomic approach was applied to characterize the composition and functional potential of the sludge and early stage biofilm microbial communities in an MBR process. Read-based analysis revealed that the prevalence of different phyla are relatively similar in both the sludge and biofilm samples, with Proteobacteria as the most dominant, followed by Chloroflexi, Bacteroidetes and Planctomycetes. However, the relative abundance of these phyla slightly varies between the sludge and biofilm. Phyla such as Actinobacteria, bacterial candidate phyla, Chlamydiae, Cyanobacteria/Melainabacteria and Firmicutes are 2 to 4 times more abundant in the biofilm than in the sludge. At the genus level, genera belonging to Proteobacteria (Legionella, Caulobacter, Sphingomonas, Acinetobacter and Rhizobium), Cyanobacteria (Hassallia), and Spirochaetes (Turneriella) are at least twice more abundant in the biofilm. These genera, especially those belonging to Phylum Proteobacteria, are known to play an important role in the formation of biofilms on surfaces. The Alpha diversity is found slightly higher in the biofilm, compared with sludge samples. Functional classification of reads through the SEED subsystem shows that functional classes such as those involved in the metabolism of various molecules are significantly different in the biofilm and sludge. A phylogenomic analysis of the six extracted metagenome assembled genomes (MAGs) shows that three MAGs belong to Proteobacteria, and one MAG belong to each of Chloroflexi, Bacteroidetes and Planctomycetes. The relative abundance of the MAG belonging to Alphaproteobacteria is higher in the biofilm. A functional potential analysis of the MAGs reveals their potential to metabolize carbon and nitrogen sources, as well as the prevalence of antibiotic resistance genes.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)134682
JournalScience of The Total Environment
StatePublished - Oct 24 2019

Bibliographical note

KAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2020-10-01
Acknowledged KAUST grant number(s): BAS/1/1061-01-01
Acknowledgements: This work was supported by the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) under award number BAS/1/1061-01-01.


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