Application of a novel molecular technique to characterise the effect of settling on microbial community composition of activated sludge

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Journal Article
Journal of Environmental Management, 2019, 251
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© 2019 Elsevier Ltd Activated sludge (AS) and return activated sludge (RAS) microbial communities from three full-scale municipal wastewater treatment plants (denoted plant A, B and C) were compared to assess the impact of sludge settling (i.e. gravity thickening in the clarifier) and profile microorganisms responsible for nutrient removal and reactor foaming. The results show that all three plants were dominated with microbes in the phyla of Proteobacteria, Bacteroidetes, Verrucomicrobia, Actinobacteria, Chloroflexi, Firmicutes, Nitrospirae, Spirochaetae, Acidobacteria and Saccharibacteria. AS and RAS shared above 80% similarity in the microbial community composition, indicating that sludge thickening does not significantly alter the microbial composition. Autotrophic and heterotrophic nitrifiers were present in the AS. However, the abundance of autotrophic nitrifiers was significantly lower than that of the heterotrophic nitrifiers. Thus, ammonium removal at these plants was achieved mostly by heterotrophic nitrification. Microbes that can cause foaming were at 3.2% abundance, and this result is well corroborated with occasional aerobic biological reactor foaming. By contrast, these microbes were not abundant (<2.1%) at plant A and C, where aerobic biological reactor foaming has not been reported.
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