Z.U. Rehman, M. Ali, H. Iftikhar, T.O. Leiknes
Water Research, volume 149, pp. 263-271, (2019)
Metagenomics, Reverse osmosis, Seawater desalination, Membrane biofouling, Membrane-based water treatment
Biofouling of Reverse Osmosis (RO) membrane is a significant issue for the water treatment industry. In this study, we apply the metagenomic shot-gun sequencing technology to characterise the composition and functional potential of the microbial community in a full scale RO plant, at different stages of seawater treatment. We find Proteobacteria, Bacteroidetes and Planctomycetes to be the most abundant bacterial phyla. The genetic potential of the RO membrane microbial community shows the enrichment of genes involved in biofilm formation, representing the selective pressure of the biofilm formation process. We recover 31 metagenome-assembled genomes (MAGs) from intake (raw seawater), fouled RO membranes (leading and middle RO module) and brine reject water. A total of 25 MAGs are recovered from the biofilm samples (leading and middle RO modules), with 9 of them (36%) belonging to Planctomycetes. We investigate all 25 MAGs for genes (pili, flagella, quorum sensing, quorum quenching and nitrate reduction) that play an important role in biofilm formation and sustenance of cells. We show that Planctomycetes contain genes for the formation of flagella and pili, and the reduction of nitrate. Although genes for quorum sensing are not detected, quorum quenching genes are identified in the biofilm MAGs. Our results show that Planctomycetes, along with other microbes, play an important role in the formation and sustenance of biofilms on seawater RO membranes.