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Appl Environ Microbiol. 1997 Mar;63(3):1107-17.

Group-specific small-subunit rRNA hybridization probes to characterize filamentous foaming in activated sludge systems.

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  • 1Department of Civil Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 61801, USA.


Foaming in activated sludge systems is characterized by the formation of a thick, chocolate brown-colored scum that floats on the surface of aeration basins and secondary clarifiers. These viscous foams have been associated with the presence of filamentous mycolic acid-containing actinomycetes. To aid in evaluating the microbial representation in foam, we developed and characterized group-, genus-, and species-specific oligonucleotide probes targeting the small subunit rRNA of the Mycobacterium complex, Gordona spp., and Gordona (Nocardia) amarae, respectively. The use of a universal base analog, 5-nitroindole, in oligonucleotide probe design was evaluated by comparing the characteristics of two different versions of the Mycobacterium complex probe. The temperature of dissociation of each probe was determined. Probe specificity studies with a diverse collection of 67 target and nontarget rRNAs demonstrated the specificity of the probes to the target groups. Whole-cell hybridizations with fluorescein- and rhodamine-labeled probes were performed with pure cultures of various members of the Mycobacterium complex as well as with environmental samples from a full-scale activated sludge plant which experienced foaming. Quantitative membrane hybridizations with activated sludge and anaerobic digester foam showed that 15.0 to 18.3% of the total small-subunit rRNAs could be attributed to members of the Mycobacterium complex, of which a vast majority consisted of Gordona rRNA. Several G. amarae strains made up only a very small percentage of the Gordona strains present. We demonstrated that group-specific rRNA probes are useful tools for the in situ monitoring and identification of filamentous bacteria in activated sludge systems.

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