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Summary

Faecal pollution contains a rich and diverse community of bacteria derived from animals and humans, many of which might serve as alternatives to the traditional enterococci and Escherichia coli faecal indicators. We used massively parallel sequencing (MPS) of the 16S rRNA gene to characterize microbial communities from wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) influent sewage from 12 cities geographically distributed across the USA. We examined members of the Clostridiales, which included the families Clostridiaceae, Lachnospiraceae and Ruminococcaceae for their potential as sewage indicators. Lachnospiraceae was one of the most abundant groups of faecal bacteria in sewage, and several Lachnospiraceae high-abundance sewage pyrotags occurred in at least 46 of 48 human faecal samples. Clone libraries targeting Clostridium coccoides (C. coccoides) in sewage samples demonstrated that Lachnospiraceae-annotated V6 pyrotags encompassed the previously reported C. coccoides group. We used oligotyping to profile the genus Blautia within Lachnospiraceae and found oligotypes comprised of 24 entropy components that showed patterns of host specificity. These findings suggest that indicators based on Blautia might have the capacity to discriminate between different faecal pollution sources. Development of source-specific alternative indicators would enhance water quality assessments, which leads to improved ecosystem health and reduced human health risk due to waterborne disease.