High-resolution characterization of short-term temporal variability in the taxonomic and resistome composition of wastewater influent.
Chau KK., Goodall T., Bowes M., Easterbrook K., Brett H., Hughes J., Crook DW., Read DS., Walker AS., Stoesser N.
Wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) for population-level surveillance of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is gaining significant traction, but the impact of wastewater sampling methods on results is unclear. In this study, we characterized taxonomic and resistome differences between single-timepoint-grab and 24 h composites of wastewater influent from a large UK-based wastewater treatment work [WWTW (population equivalent: 223 435)]. We autosampled hourly influent grab samples (n=72) over three consecutive weekdays, and prepared additional 24 h composites (n=3) from respective grabs. For taxonomic profiling, metagenomic DNA was extracted from all samples and 16S rRNA gene sequencing was performed. One composite and six grabs from day 1 underwent metagenomic sequencing for metagenomic dissimilarity estimation and resistome profiling. Taxonomic abundances of phyla varied significantly across hourly grab samples but followed a repeating diurnal pattern for all 3 days. Hierarchical clustering grouped grab samples into four time periods dissimilar in both 16S rRNA gene-based profiles and metagenomic distances. 24H-composites resembled mean daily phyla abundances and showed low variability of taxonomic profiles. Of the 122 AMR gene families (AGFs) identified across all day 1 samples, single grab samples identified a median of six (IQR: 5-8) AGFs not seen in the composite. However, 36/36 of these hits were at lateral coverage <0.5 (median: 0.19; interquartile range: 0.16-0.22) and potential false positives. Conversely, the 24H-composite identified three AGFs not seen in any grab with higher lateral coverage (0.82; 0.55-0.84). Additionally, several clinically significant human AGFs (bla VIM, bla IMP, bla KPC) were intermittently or completely missed by grab sampling but captured by the 24 h composite. Wastewater influent undergoes significant taxonomic and resistome changes on short timescales potentially affecting interpretation of results based on sampling strategy. Grab samples are more convenient and potentially capture low-prevalence/transient targets but are less comprehensive and temporally variable. Therefore, we recommend 24H-composite sampling where feasible. Further validation and optimization of WBE methods is vital for its development into a robust AMR surveillance approach.