Environmental Science and Technology 56(20) , 14462-14477 ( 2022)
In shallow, open-water engineered wetlands, design parameters select for a photosynthetic microbial biomat capable of robust pharmaceutical biotransformation, yet the contributions of specific microbial processes remain unclear. Here, we combined genome-resolved metatranscriptomics and oxygen profiling of a field-scale biomat to inform laboratory inhibition microcosms amended with a suite of pharmaceuticals. Our analyses revealed a dynamic surficial layer harboring oxic-anoxic cycling and simultaneous photosynthetic, nitrifying, and denitrifying microbial transcription spanning nine bacterial phyla, with unbinned eukaryotic scaffolds suggesting a dominance of diatoms. In the laboratory, photosynthesis, nitrification, and denitrification were broadly decoupled by incubating oxic and anoxic microcosms in the presence and absence of light and nitrogen cycling enzyme inhibitors. Through combining microcosm inhibition data with field-scale metagenomics, we inferred microbial clades responsible for biotransformation associated with membrane-bound nitrate reductase activity (emtricitabine, trimethoprim, and atenolol), nitrous oxide reduction (trimethoprim), ammonium oxidation (trimethoprim and emtricitabine), and photosynthesis (metoprolol). Monitoring of transformation products of atenolol and emtricitabine confirmed that inhibition was specific to biotransformation and highlighted the value of oscillating redox environments for the further transformation of atenolol acid. Our findings shed light on microbial processes contributing to pharmaceutical biotransformation in open-water wetlands with implications for similar nature-based treatment systems.