Opportunistic pathogens and large microbial diversity detected in source-to-distribution drinking water of three remote communities in Northern Australia

Mirjam Kaestli, Michelle O'Donnell, Alea Marie Rose, Jessica Webb, Mark Mayo, Bart Currie, Karen Gibb

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14 Citations (Scopus)
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In the wet-dry tropics of Northern Australia, drinking water in remote communities is mostly sourced from bores accessing groundwater. Many aquifers contain naturally high levels of iron and some are shallow with surface water intrusion in the wet season. Therefore, environmental bacteria such as iron-cycling bacteria promoting biofilm formation in pipes or opportunistic pathogens can occur in these waters. An opportunistic pathogen endemic to northern Australia and Southeast Asia and emerging worldwide is Burkholderia pseudomallei. It causes the frequently fatal disease melioidosis in humans and animals. As we know very little about the microbial composition of drinking water in remote communities, this study aimed to provide a first snapshot of the microbiota and occurrence of opportunistic pathogens in bulk water and biofilms from the source and through the distribution system of three remote water supplies with varying iron levels. Using 16s-rRNA gene sequencing, we found that the geochemistry of the groundwater had a substantial impact on the untreated microbiota. Different iron-cycling bacteria reflected differences in redox status and nutrients. We cultured and sequenced B. pseudomallei from bores with elevated iron and from a multi-species biofilm which also contained iron-oxidizing Gallionella, nitrifying Nitrospira and amoebae. Gallionella are increasingly used in iron-removal filters in water supplies and more research is needed to examine these interactions. Similar to other opportunistic pathogens, B. pseudomallei occurred in water with low organic carbon levels and with low heterotrophic microbial growth. No B. pseudomallei were detected in treated water; however, abundant DNA of another opportunistic pathogen group, non-tuberculous mycobacteria was recovered from treated parts of one supply. Results from this study will inform future studies to ultimately improve management guidelines for water supplies in the wet-dry tropics.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0007672
Pages (from-to)1-23
Number of pages23
JournalPLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 5 Sept 2019


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