Profiling of Microbial Communities, Antibiotic Resistance, Functional Genes, and Biodegradable Dissolved Organic Carbon in a Carbon-Based Potable Water Reuse System
Blair, Matthew Forrest
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Water reuse has become a promising alternative to alleviate stress on conventional freshwater resources in the face of population growth, sea level rise, source water depletion, eutrophication of water bodies, and climate change. Potable water reuse intentionally looks to purify wastewater effluent to drinking water quality or better through the development and implementation of advanced treatment trains. While membrane-based treatment has become a widely-adopted treatment step to meet this purpose, there is growing interest in implementing treatment trains that harness microorganisms as a more sustainable and less energy-intensive means of removing contaminants of emerging concern (CECs), through biological degradation or transformation. In this dissertation, various aspects of the operation of a microbially-active carbon-based advanced treatment train producing water intended for potable reuse are examined, including fate of dissolved organic carbon, underlying microbial populations, and functional genes are explored. Further, dynamics associated with antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs), identified as a microbially-relevant CECs, are also assessed. Overall, this dissertation advances understanding associated with the interplay between and within treatment processes as they relate to removal of various organic carbon fractions, microbially community dynamics, functional genes, and ARGs. Further, when relevant, these insights are contextualized to operational conditions, process upsets, water quality parameters, and other intended water uses within the water industry with the goal of broadening the application of advanced molecular tools beyond the scope of academic research. Specifically, this dissertation illuminates relationships among organic carbon fractions and molecular markers within an advanced treatment train employing flocculation, coagulation, and sedimentation (FlocSed), ozonation, biologically active carbon (BAC) filtration, granular active carbon (GAC) contacting, and UV disinfection. Biodegradable dissolved organic carbon (BDOC) analysis was adapted specifically as an assay relevant to assessing dissolved organic carbon biodegradability by BAC/GAC-biofilms and applied to profile biodegradable/non-biodegradable organic carbon as wastewater effluent passed through each of these treatment stages. Of particular interest was the role of ozonation in producing bioavailable organic carbon that can be effectively removed by BAC filtration. In addition to understanding the removal of fractionalized organic carbon, next generation DNA sequencing technologies (NGS) were utilized to better understand the microbial dynamics characteristic of complex microbial communities during disinfection and biological treatment. Specifically, this analysis was focused on succession and colonization of taxa, genes related to a wide range of functional interests (e.g. metabolic processes, horizontal gene transfer, DNA repair, and nitrogen cycling), and microbial CECs. Finally, NGS technologies were employed to assess the differences between a wide range of water use categories, including conventional drinking water, potable reuse, and non-potable reuse effluent's microbiomes to identify core and discriminatory taxa associated with intended water usage. The outcomes of this dissertation provide valuable information for optimizing carbon-based treatment trains as an alternative to membrane-based treatment for sustainable water reuse and also advance the application of NGS as a diagnostic tool for assessing the efficacy of various water treatment technologies for achieving treatment goals.
General Audience Abstract
Several factors have led to increased stress on conventional drinking water sources and widespread global water scarcity. Projections indicate that continued population growth, increased water demand, and degradation of current freshwater resources will negatively contribute to water needs and underscore the need to secure new potable (i.e. fit for human consumption) sources. Water reuse is a promising alternative to offset the growing demands on traditional potable sources and ameliorate negative consequences associated with water scarcity. Discharge of treated wastewater to marine environments is especially a lost opportunity, as the water will no longer be of value to freshwater habitats or as a drinking water source. Water reuse challenges the conventional wastewater treatment paradigm by providing advanced treatment of wastewater effluent to produce a valuable resource that can be safely used directly for either non-potable (e.g., irrigation, firefighting) or potable (i.e., drinking water) applications. The means of achieving advanced treatment of wastewater effluents can take many forms, commonly relying on the utilization of membrane filtration. However, membrane filtration is an intensive process and suffers from high initial costs, high operational costs, membrane fouling with time, and the production of a salty and difficult to dispose of waste stream. These drawbacks have motivated the water reuse industry to explore more sustainable approaches to achieving high quality effluents. One such alternative relies on the utilization of microorganisms to provide biological degradation and transformation of contaminants through a process known as biologically active filtration (BAF). Comparatively to membrane systems, BAF is more cost effective and produces significantly fewer byproducts while still producing high quality treated water for reuse. However, the range in quality of the resulting treated water has not yet been fully established, in part due to the lack of understanding of the complex microbial communities responsible for biological treatment. As water and wastewater treatment technologies have evolved over the past century, many biological treatments have remained largely 'black box' due to the lack of effective tools to identify the tens of thousands of species of microbes that inhabit a typical system and to track their dynamics with time. Instead, analysis has largely focused on basic water quality indicators. This dissertation takes important steps in advancing the implementation of the study of DNA and biodegradable organic carbon (BDOC) analysis to improve understanding of the mechanisms that drive different water reuse treatment technologies and to identify potential vulnerabilities. Insights gained through application of these tools are contextualized to observed operational conditions, process upsets, and water quality measurements. This helped to advance the use of DNA-based tools to better inform water treatment engineering practice. Specifically, this dissertation dives into the relationships between organic carbon and DNA-based markers within an advanced treatment train employing flocculation, coagulation, and sedimentation (FlocSed), ozonation, biologically active carbon (BAC) filtration, granular active carbon (GAC) contacting, and UV disinfection. Development and application of the BDOC test revealed that the bulk of organic carbon entering the treatment train is dissolved. Further, BDOC analysis served to characterize the impact of specific treatment processes and changes in operational conditions on both biodegradable and non-biodegradable organic carbon fractions. Such information can help to inform continued process optimization. Utilization of DNA-based technologies shed light on the functional capacity of microbial communities present within each stage of treatment and the fate of antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs). ARGs are of concern because, when present in human pathogens, they can result in the failure of antibiotics to cure deadly infections. Other functional genes of interest were also examined using the DNA-based analysis, including genes driving metabolic processes and nitrogen cycling that are critical to water purification during BAF treatment. Also, the DNA-based analyses made it possible to better understand the effects of disinfectants on microbes. Interestingly, some ARG types increased in relative abundance (a measure analogous to percent composition) response to treatments, such as disinfection, and others decreased. Characterization of the microbial communities and their dynamic response to changing operation conditions were also observed. For example, it was possible to characterize how the profiles of microbes changed with time, an ecological process called succession, during BAC filtration and GAC contacting. Generally, this analysis, coupled with the functional analysis, shed light on the important, divergent roles of bacterial communities on organic degradation during both BAC and GAC treatment. Finally, a study was conducted that compared the microbiome (i.e. entire microbial community) between a wide range of conventional drinking water, potable reuse water, and non-potable reuse waters. Here it was found that significant differences existed between the microbial communities of water intended for potable or non-potable usage. This work also looked to expand the application of NGS technologies beyond strictly academic research by developing the application of more advanced DNA-based tools for treatment train assessment and monitoring.
- Doctoral Dissertations