The Human Genome Project and technological advances in DNA sequencing have brought in a new age of medicine and biotechnology. Today, as sequencing and quantitation have become more efficient and affordable, genetics now play a pivotal role in many industries. In the world of wastewater, DNA sequencing is the next frontier.
Traditional monitoring methods leave many questions about the system’s biological performance unanswered. Many bacteria are unable to be identified or even seen using a microscope. In reality, it is a guess of what is actually going on with the system’s biology.
Metagenomic data can bring utilities multiple benefits, including more efficient operations and use of energy. Optimizing system performance based on this data can lead to critical cost savings when considering plant expansions. At the IWEA Core Conference in Indianapolis last March, LuminUltra Microbial Monitoring presented a case study where a municipality was planning to invest $1 million to add an additional aerated pond to its system to address insufficient performance. Before making the investment, LuminUltra used DNA sequencing to determine that the system had no detectable nitrifying organisms in the treatment ponds. Results led to modifying equipment on the front end of the system to address high levels of hydrogen sulfide, which was the real issue that was killing the nitrifiers, with a total investment of $5,000 rather than $1 million. The municipality ended up only spending five thousand dollars on DNA sequencing, as opposed to a million dollar expansion.
Being able to cross reference the metagenomic data with the system’s chemistry allows the operator to diagnose issues in the biological process at the genus level, leaving no stone unturned. Although metagenomics in wastewater is young, utilities are beginning to embrace the technology raising the bar in monitoring standards and sustaining user rates.