Microbial dynamics in upflow anaerobic sludge blanket (UASB) bioreactor granules in response to short-term changes in substrate feed

William P Kovacik, Johannes C M Scholten, David Culley, Robert Hickey, Weiwen Zhang, Fred J Brockman
Microbiology 2010, 156: 2418-27
The upflow anaerobic sludge blanket (UASB) reactor is a microcosm for the methanogenic degradation of organic matter in anaerobic environments, and depends on the auto-formation of dense 3D biofilms of 1-3 mm in diameter, referred to as granular sludge (biogranules). Past research has shown that UASB and other methanogenic reactors are extremely stable functionally, but the underlying basis of the functional stability is not well understood. In this study, microbial dynamics in the communities residing in UASB biogranules were analysed to determine responses to short-term perturbations (change in reactor feed). The reactor was fed with simulated brewery wastewater (SBWW) for 1.5 months (phase 1), acetate/sulfate for 2 months (phase 2), acetate alone for 3 months (phase 3) and then a return to SBWW for 2 months (phase 4). Analysis of 16S rRNA, methanogen-associated mcrA and sulfate reducer-associated dsrAB gene-based-clone libraries showed a relatively simple community composed mainly of the methanogenic archaea (Methanobacterium and Methanosaeta), members of the green non-sulfur (Chloroflexi) group of bacteria and Syntrophobacter, Spirochaeta, Acidobacteria and Cytophaga-related bacterial sequences. The mcrA clone libraries were dominated throughout by Methanobacterium- and Methanospirillum-related sequences. Although the reactor performance remained relatively stable throughout the experiment, community diversity levels generally decreased for all libraries in response to a change from SBWW to acetate alone feed. There was a large transitory increase noted in 16S diversity at the 2 month sampling on acetate alone, entirely related to an increase in bacterial diversity. Upon return to SBWW conditions in phase 4, all diversity measures returned to near phase 1 levels. Our results demonstrated that microbial communities, even highly structured ones such as in UASB biogranules, are very capable of responding to rapid and major changes in their environment.


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