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Summary

We evaluated the population structure and temporal dynamics of the dominant community members within sewage influent from two wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) in Milwaukee, WI. We generated > 1.1 M bacterial pyrotag sequences from the V6 hypervariable region of 16S rRNA genes from 38 influent samples and two samples taken upstream in the sanitary sewer system. Only a small fraction of pyrotags from influent samples (∼ 15%) matched sequences from human faecal samples. The faecal components of the sewage samples included enriched pyrotag populations from Lactococcus and Enterobacteriaceae relative to their fractional representation in human faecal samples. In contrast to the large number of distinct pyrotags that represent faecal bacteria such as Lachnospiraceae and Bacteroides, only one or two unique V6 sequences represented Acinetobacter, Aeromonas and Trichococcus, which collectively account for nearly 35% of the total sewage community. Two dominant Acinetobacter V6 pyrotags (designated Acineto tag 1 and Acineto tag 2) fluctuated inversely with a seasonal pattern over a 3-year period, suggesting two distinct Acinetobacter populations respond differently to ecological forcings in the system. A single nucleotide change in the V6 pyrotags accounted for the difference in these populations and corresponded to two phylogenetically distinct clades based on full-length sequences. Analysis of wavelet functions, derived from a mathematical model of temporal fluctuations, demonstrated that other abundant sewer associated populations including Trichococcus and Aeromonas had temporal patterns similar to either Acineto tag 1 or Acineto tag 2. Populations with related temporal fluctuations were found to significantly correlate with the same WWTP variables (5-day BOD, flow, ammonia, total phosphorous and suspended solids). These findings illustrate that small differences in V6 sequences can represent phylogenetically and ecologically distinct taxa. This work provides insight into microbial community composition and dynamics within the defined environment of urban sewer infrastructure.