Operation-driven heterogeneity and overlooked feed-associated populations in global anaerobic digester microbiome

Ran Mei, Masaru K. Nobu, Takashi Narihiro, Kyohei Kuroda, Julian Muñoz Sierra, Zhuoying Wu, Lin Ye, Patrick K.H. Lee, Po Heng Lee, Jules B. van Lier, Michael J. McInerney, Yoichi Kamagata, Wen Tso Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Anaerobic digester (AD) microbiomes harbor complex, interacting microbial populations to achieve biomass reduction and biogas production, however how they are influenced by operating conditions and feed sludge microorganisms remain unclear. These were addressed by analyzing the microbial communities of 90 full-scale digesters at 51 municipal wastewater treatment plants from five countries. Heterogeneity detected in community structures suggested that no single AD microbiome could be defined. Instead, the AD microbiomes were classified into eight clusters driven by operating conditions (e.g., pretreatment, temperature range, and salinity), whereas geographic location of the digesters did not have significant impacts. Comparing digesters populations with those present in the corresponding feed sludge led to the identification of a hitherto overlooked feed-associated microbial group (i.e., the residue populations). They accounted for up to 21.4% of total sequences in ADs operated at low temperature, presumably due to ineffective digestion, and as low as 0.8% in ADs with pretreatment. Within each cluster, a core microbiome was defined, including methanogens, syntrophic metabolizers, fermenters, and the newly described residue populations. Our work provides insights into the key factors shaping full-scale AD microbiomes in a global scale, and draws attentions to the overlooked residue populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)77-84
Number of pages8
JournalWater Research
StatePublished - 2017


  • Anaerobic digester
  • Feed sludge
  • Microbiome
  • Operation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecological Modeling
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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