Use of functional gene expression and respirometry to study wastewater nitrification activity after exposure to low doses of copper

Vikram Kapoor, Xuan Li, Kartik Chandran, Christopher A Impellitteri, Jorge W Santo Domingo
Environmental Science and Pollution Research International 2016, 23 (7): 6443-50
Autotrophic nitrification in biological nitrogen removal systems has been shown to be sensitive to the presence of heavy metals in wastewater treatment plants. Using transcriptase-quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR) data, we examined the effect of copper on the relative expression of functional genes (i.e., amoA, hao, nirK, and norB) involved in redox nitrogen transformation in batch enrichment cultures obtained from a nitrifying bioreactor operated as a continuous reactor (24-h hydraulic retention time). 16S ribosomal RNA (rRNA) gene next-generation sequencing showed that Nitrosomonas-like populations represented 60-70% of the bacterial community, while other nitrifiers represented <5%. We observed a strong correspondence between the relative expression of amoA and hao and ammonia removal in the bioreactor. There were no considerable changes in the transcript levels of amoA, hao, nirK, and norB for nitrifying samples exposed to copper dosages ranging from 0.01 to 10 mg/L for a period of 12 h. Similar results were obtained when ammonia oxidation activity was measured via specific oxygen uptake rate (sOUR). The lack of nitrification inhibition by copper at doses lower than 10 mg/L may be attributed to the role of copper as cofactor for ammonia monooxygenase or to the sub-inhibitory concentrations of copper used in this study. Overall, these results demonstrate the use of molecular methods combined with conventional respirometry assays to better understand the response of wastewater nitrifying systems to the presence of copper.


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