Evaluation of Next-Generation Sequencing Technologies for Environmental Monitoring: Characterization of Microbial Communities from Wastewater Plants and Selected Beaches of Hawaii Using a Metagenomics Approach


Dr. Marek Kirs, Assistant Researcher, Water Resources Research Center


National Institute for Water Resources, Water Resources Research Institute Program


3/1/2013 - 2/28/2014


Microbes are the most abundant and diverse group of organisms on Earth and the major drivers of biogeochemical cycles in all environments. Hence having an understanding of microbial community structure as well as its function is perhaps the most fundamental need in environmental sciences. To maintain a sustainable economy and healthy environment, decisions guiding environmental management need to be based on a broad and comprehensive understanding of the biodiversity and functional capability within ecosystems. The next-generation sequencing based metagenomics approach has the potential to revolutionize water monitoring programs as this novel technology allows us to explore the microbial community structure in unprecedented detail as millions of sequencing reads are generated for each sample. Hence extremely detailed taxonomic and genetic profiles can be identified for each sample as the whole metagenome, genetic material present in the sample, is being analyzed. Because of the technological novelty, wastewater and coastal microbial communities in Hawaii have not been studied using this approach and therefore we have limited or no understanding of microbial communities in our backyard. Furthermore, the technology can be used to identify abundant and highly source specific microbial makers which are need for risk assessment studies. The overarching goal of this project is to describe microbial diversity in WWTP discharge and coastal environments of Hawaii. The project will evaluate and establish metagenomics based research at the WRRC (University of Hawaii). While a fundamental environmental microbiology project, it strongly links with fields of bioinformatics and environmental management.

Project Objectives:

1) Provide the first in depth microbial community analysis in five wastewater treatment plants (WWTP) of Hawaii using next-generation sequencing tools,
2) Provide the first in depth microbial community analysis of selected beaches of Hawaii using next-generation sequencing tools,
3) Identify how combination of contrasting treatment approaches effect microbial communities in the WWTP discharges,
4) Identify microbial fingerprints associated with each major WWTP ocean discharge in Hawaii,
5) Establish an in silico data analysis pipeline for metagenomic research at the WRRC,
6) Establish an international collaboration with metagenomics experts at Tartu University, Estonia.