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Science of The Total Environment
Volume 774, 2021, 145113

Microbial communities of biofilms developed in a chlorinated drinking water distribution system: A field study of antibiotic resistance and biodiversity

Agata Siedlecka, Mirela Wolf-Baca, Katarzyna Piekarska

Department of Environmental Protection Engineering, Faculty of Environmental Engineering, Wrocław University of Science and Technology, Wyb. Wyspiańskiego 27, 50-370 Wrocław, Poland.


Antibiotic resistance and biodiversity were investigated in microbial communities attached to inner surfaces of water supply fittings in a chlorinated drinking water distribution system (DWDS) supplied by two independent water treatment plants (WTPs) drawing the same source water. The investigation of the effect of the season, the applied water treatment technology, and type, material, and age of water supply fittings on both antibiotic resistance and biodiversity in biofilms involved collection of tubercles during summer and winter seasons throughout the DWDS. A total of 16 samples were collected (8 per season) from areas supplied by two independent WTPs. Culturable aerobic antibiotic resistant bacteria (ARB) proved more prevalent in summer. Various antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) were detected, confirming the role of biofilms as ARGs reservoirs, but the abundances of quantified genes (sulI, ermB, qacEΔ1, intI1) were low (a range of <LOQ to 2313 gene copies/mg dry mass of tubercles) throughout the DWDS. In terms of microbial community composition, Proteobacteria were dominant in each sample (51.51–97.13%), and the most abundant genus was Desulfovibrio (0.01–66.69%) belonging to sulphate-reducing bacteria. Biodiversity of microbial communities was shaped by many coexisting factors, including season, water supply fitting material, and sampling site location. Spatial distribution analysis revealed that although only samples collected at the same sampling sites were similar to each other in terms of antibiotic resistance, some samples collected in the close proximity were similar in terms of biodiversity. This suggests that antibiotic resistance spreads only locally over small distances in drinking water biofilms. Although actual drinking water biofilms have been previously investigated in terms of microbial biodiversity, this is the first study that characterised both antibiotic resistance and biodiversity of microbial communities attached to inner surfaces of a real DWDS functioning for decades.

Keywords: Corrosion tubercles, Seasonal changes, Pipe materials, Antibiotic resistance reservoirs, Desulfovibrio.

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