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Appl Environ Microbiol. 1988 Jan;54(1):10-19.

Control of Interspecies Electron Flow during Anaerobic Digestion: Role of Floc Formation in Syntrophic Methanogenesis.

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  • 1Michigan Biotechnology Institute, P.O. Box 27609, Lansing, Michigan 48909, and the Departments of Biochemistry and Microbiology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan 48824.


The flora of an anaerobic whey-processing chemostat was separated by anaerobic sedimentation techniques into a free-living bacterial fraction and a bacterial floc fraction. The floc fraction constituted a major part (i.e., 57% total protein) of the total microbial population in the digestor, and it accounted for 87% of the total CO(2)-dependent methanogenic activity and 76% of the total ethanol-consuming acetogenic activity. Lactose was degraded by both cellular fractions, but in the free flora fraction it was associated with higher intermediary levels of H(2), ethanol, butyrate, and propionate production. Electron microscopic analysis of flocs showed bacterial diversity and juxtapositioning of tentative Desulfovibrio and Methanobacterium species without significant microcolony formation. Ethanol, an intermediary product of lactose-hydrolyzing bacteria, was converted to acetate and methane within the flocs by interspecies electron transfer. Ethanol-dependent methane formation was compartmentalized and closely coupled kinetically within the flocs but without significant formation of H(2) gas. Physical disruption of flocs into fragments of 10- to 20-mum diameter initially increased the H(2) partial pressure but did not change the carbon transformation kinetic patterns of ethanol metabolism or demonstrate a significant role for H(2) in CO(2) reduction to methane. The data demonstrate that floc formation in a whey-processing anaerobic digestor functions in juxtapositioning cells for interspecies electron transfer during syntrophic ethanol conversion into acetate and methane but by a mechanism which was independent of the available dissolved H(2) gas pool in the ecosystem.

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