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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2002 May;68(5):2285-93.

Spatial distribution of total, ammonia-oxidizing, and denitrifying bacteria in biological wastewater treatment reactors for bioregenerative life support.

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  • 1Department of Environmental Sciences, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey 08901-8521, USA.


Bioregenerative life support systems may be necessary for long-term space missions due to the high cost of lifting supplies and equipment into orbit. In this study, we investigated two biological wastewater treatment reactors designed to recover potable water for a spacefaring crew being tested at Johnson Space Center. The experiment (Lunar-Mars Life Support Test Project-Phase III) consisted of four crew members confined in a test chamber for 91 days. In order to recycle all water during the experiment, an immobilized cell bioreactor (ICB) was employed for organic carbon removal and a trickling filter bioreactor (TFB) was utilized for ammonia removal, followed by physical-chemical treatment. In this study, the spatial distribution of various microorganisms within each bioreactor was analyzed by using biofilm samples taken from four locations in the ICB and three locations in the TFB. Three target genes were used for characterization of bacteria: the 16S rRNA gene for the total bacterial community, the ammonia monooxygenase (amoA) gene for ammonia-oxidizing bacteria, and the nitrous oxide reductase (nosZ) gene for denitrifying bacteria. A combination of terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism (T-RFLP), sequence, and phylogenetic analyses indicated that the microbial community composition in the ICB and the TFB consisted mainly of Proteobacteria, low-G+C gram-positive bacteria, and a Cytophaga-Flexibacter-Bacteroides group. Fifty-seven novel 16S rRNA genes, 8 novel amoA genes, and 12 new nosZ genes were identified in this study. Temporal shifts in the species composition of total bacteria in both the ICB and the TFB and ammonia-oxidizing and denitrifying bacteria in the TFB were also detected when the biofilms were compared with the inocula after 91 days. This result suggests that specific microbial populations were either brought in by the crew or enriched in the reactors during the course of operation.

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