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Microb Ecol. 2003 May;45(4):419-32. Epub 2003 Apr 22.

Microbial composition and structure of a rotating biological contactor biofilm treating ammonium-rich wastewater without organic carbon.

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  • 1Swiss Federal Institute for Environmental Science and Technology, CH-8600 Dübendorf, Switzerland.


High nitrogen losses were observed in a rotating biological contactor (RBC) treating ammonium-rich (up to 500 mg NH4(+)-N/L) but organic-carbon-poor leachate from a hazardous waste landfill in Kölliken, Switzerland. The composition and spatial structure of the microbial community in the biofilm on the RBC was analyzed with specific attention for the presence of aerobic ammonium and nitrite oxidizing bacteria and anaerobic ammonium oxidizers. Anaerobic ammonium oxidation (anammox) involves the oxidation of ammonium with nitrite to N2. First the diversity of the biofilm community was determined from sequencing cloned PCR-amplified 16S rDNA fragments. This revealed the presence of a number of very unusual 16S rDNA sequences, but very few sequences related to known ammonium or nitrite oxidizing bacteria. From analysis of biofilm samples by fluorescence in situ hybridization with known phylogenetic probes and by dot-blot hybridization of the same probes to total RNA purified from biofilm samples, the main groups of microorganisms constituting the biofilm were found to be ammonium-oxidizing bacteria from the Nitrosomonas europaea/eutropha group, anaerobic ammonium-oxidizing bacteria of the "Candidatus Kuenenia stuttgartiensis" type, filamentous bacteria from the phylum Bacteroidetes, and nitrite-oxidizing bacteria from the genus Nitrospira. Aerobic and anaerobic ammonium-oxidizing bacteria were present in similar amounts of around 20 to 30% of the biomass, whereas members of the CFB phylum were present at around 7%. Nitrite oxidizing bacteria were only present in relatively low amounts (less than 5% determined with fluorescence in situ hybridization). Data from 16S rRNA dot-blot and in situ hybridization were not in all cases congruent. FISH analysis of thin-sliced and fixed biofilm samples clearly showed that the aerobic nitrifiers were located at the top of the biofilm in an extremely high density and in alternating clusters. Anammox bacteria were exclusively present in the lower half of the biofilm, whereas CFB-type filamentous bacteria were present throughout the biofilm. The structure and composition of these biofilms correlated very nicely with the proposed physiological functional separations in ammonium conversion.

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