Global abundance patterns, diversity, and ecology of Patescibacteria in wastewater treatment plants

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Abstract

Background

Microorganisms are responsible for nutrient removal and resource recovery in wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs), and their diversity is often studied by 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing. However, this approach underestimates the abundance and diversity of Patescibacteria due to the low coverage of commonly used PCR primers for this highly divergent bacterial phylum. Therefore, our current understanding of the global diversity, distribution, and ecological role of Patescibacteria in WWTPs is very incomplete. This is particularly relevant as Patescibacteria are considered to be associated with microbial host cells and can therefore influence the abundance and temporal variability of other microbial groups that are important for WWTP functioning.

Results

Here, we evaluated the in silico coverage of widely used 16S rRNA gene-targeted primer pairs and redesigned a primer pair targeting the V4 region of bacterial and archaeal 16S rRNA genes to expand its coverage for Patescibacteria. We then experimentally evaluated and compared the performance of the original and modified V4-targeted primers on 565 WWTP samples from the MiDAS global sample collection. Using the modified primer pair, the percentage of ASVs classified as Patescibacteria increased from 5.9% to 23.8%, and the number of detected patescibacterial genera increased from 560 to 1,576, while the detected diversity of the remaining microbial community remained similar. Due to this significantly improved coverage of Patescibacteria, we identified 23 core genera of Patescibacteria in WWTPs and described the global distribution pattern of these unusual microbes in these systems. Finally, correlation network analysis revealed potential host organisms that might be associated with Patescibacteria in WWTPs. Interestingly, strong indications were found for an association between Patescibacteria of the Saccharimonadia and globally abundant polyphosphate-accumulating organisms of the genus Ca. Phosporibacter.

Conclusions

Our study (i) provides an improved 16S rRNA gene V4 region-targeted amplicon primer pair inclusive of Patescibacteria with little impact on the detection of other taxa, (ii) reveals the diversity and distribution patterns of Patescibacteria in WWTPs on a global scale, and (iii) provides new insights into the ecological role and potential hosts of Patescibacteria in WWTPs.

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