Disinfection exhibits systematic impacts on the drinking water microbiome

Zihan Dai, Maria C. Sevillano-Rivera, Szymon T. Calus, Q.M. Bautista-De Los Santos, A.M. Eren, Paul W.J.J. Van Der Wielen, Umer Z. Ijaz, Ameet J. Pinto*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Limiting microbial growth during drinking water distribution is achieved either by maintaining a disinfectant residual or through nutrient limitation without using a disinfectant. The impact of these contrasting approaches on the drinking water microbiome is not systematically understood. We use genome-resolved metagenomics to compare the structure, metabolic traits, and population genomes of drinking water microbiome samples from bulk drinking water across multiple full-scale disinfected and non-disinfected drinking water systems. Microbial communities cluster at the structural- and functional potential-level based on the presence/absence of a disinfectant residual. Disinfectant residual alone explained 17 and 6.5% of the variance in structure and functional potential of the drinking water microbiome, respectively, despite including multiple drinking water systems with variable source waters and source water communities and treatment strategies. The drinking water microbiome is structurally and functionally less diverse and variable across disinfected compared to non-disinfected systems. While bacteria were the most abundant domain, archaea and eukaryota were more abundant in non-disinfected and disinfected systems, respectively. Community-level differences in functional potential were driven by enrichment of genes associated with carbon and nitrogen fixation in non-disinfected systems and γ-aminobutyrate metabolism in disinfected systems likely associated with the recycling of amino acids. Genome-level analyses for a subset of phylogenetically-related microorganisms suggests that disinfection selects for microorganisms capable of using fatty acids, presumably from microbial decay products, via the glyoxylate cycle. Overall, we find that disinfection exhibits systematic selective pressures on the drinking water microbiome and may select for microorganisms able to utilize microbial decay products originating from disinfection-inactivated microorganisms. [MediaObject not available: see fulltext.]

Original languageEnglish
Article number42
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 20 Mar 2020


  • Disinfection
  • Drinking water microbiome
  • Metagenomics
  • Selection

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