Metagenomes obtained by ‘deep sequencing’ – what do they tell about the enhanced biological phosphorus removal communities?

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Metagenomics enables studies of the genomic potential of complex microbial communities by sequencing bulk genomic DNA directly from the environment. Knowledge of the genetic potential of a community can be used to formulate and test ecological hypotheses about stability and performance. In this study deep metagenomics and fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) were used to study a full-scale wastewater treatment plant with enhanced biological phosphorus removal (EBPR), and the results were compared to an existing EBPR metagenome. EBPR is a widely used process that relies on a complex community of microorganisms to function properly. Insight into community and species level stability and dynamics is valuable for knowledge-driven optimization of the EBPR process. The metagenomes of the EBPR communities were distinct compared to metagenomes of communities from a wide range of other environments, which could be attributed to selection pressures of the EBPR process. The metabolic potential of one of the key microorganisms in the EPBR process, Accumulibacter, was investigated in more detail in the two plants, revealing a potential importance of phage predation on the dynamics of Accumulibacter populations. The results demonstrate that metagenomics can be used as a powerful tool for system wide characterization of the EBPR community as well as for a deeper understanding of the function of specific community members. Furthermore, we discuss and illustrate some of the general pitfalls in metagenomics and stress the need of additional DNA extraction independent information in metagenome studies.

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