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Appl Environ Microbiol. 1999 Aug;65(8):3697-704.

How stable is stable? Function versus community composition.

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  • 1Center for Microbial Ecology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan 48824, USA.


The microbial community dynamics of a functionally stable, well-mixed, methanogenic reactor fed with glucose were analyzed over a 605-day period. The reactor maintained constant pH and chemical oxygen demand removal during this period. Thirty-six rrn clones from each of seven sampling events were analyzed by amplified ribosomal DNA restriction analysis (ARDRA) for the Bacteria and Archaea domains and by sequence analysis of dominant members of the community. Operational taxonomic units (OTUs), distinguished as unique ARDRA patterns, showed reproducible distribution for three sample replicates. The highest diversity was observed in the Bacteria domain. The 16S ribosomal DNA Bacteria clone library contained 75 OTUs, with the dominant OTU accounting for 13% of the total clones, but just 21 Archaea OTUs were found, and the most prominent OTU represented 50% of the clones from the respective library. Succession in methanogenic populations was observed, and two periods were distinguished: in the first, Methanobacterium formicicum was dominant, and in the second, Methanosarcina mazei and a Methanobacterium bryantii-related organism were dominant. Higher variability in Bacteria populations was detected, and the temporal OTU distribution suggested a chaotic pattern. Although dominant OTUs were constantly replaced from one sampling point to the next, phylogenetic analysis indicated that inferred physiologic changes in the community were not as dramatic as were genetic changes. Seven of eight dominant OTUs during the first period clustered with the spirochete group, although a cyclic pattern of substitution occurred among members within this order. A more flexible community structure characterized the second period, since a sequential replacement of a Eubacterium-related organism by an unrelated deep-branched organism and finally by a Propionibacterium-like species was observed. Metabolic differences among the dominant fermenters detected suggest that changes in carbon and electron flow occurred during the stable performance and indicate that an extremely dynamic community can maintain a stable ecosystem function.

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