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FEMS Microbiol Ecol. 2010 Dec;74(3):631-42. doi: 10.1111/j.1574-6941.2010.00967.x. Epub 2010 Sep 30.

Evidence for bacteriophage activity causing community and performance changes in a phosphorus-removal activated sludge.

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Advanced Water Management Centre (AWMC), The University of Queensland (UQ), Brisbane, Qld, Australia.


Bacteria are known to play important roles in biogeochemical cycles and biotechnology processes, but little is known about the influence of bacteriophage on these processes. A major impediment to the study of host-bacteriophage interactions is that the bacteria and their bacteriophage are often not available in a pure culture. In this study, we detected an unexpected decline in the phosphorus-removal performance of a granular laboratory-scale wastewater treatment reactor. Investigations by FISH, transmission electron microscopy and proteomics led us to hypothesize that a bacteriophage infection of the uncultured Candidatus 'Accumulibacter phosphatis' was responsible for the decline in performance. Further experiments demonstrated that the addition of a putative bacteriophage-rich supernatant, obtained from the previous failed reactor to phosphorus-removal reactors, caused a decrease in the abundance of Accumulibacter in both granular and floccular activated sludges. This coincided with increases in bacteriophage-like particles and declining phosphorus-removal performance. The granular sludge did not recover after the attack, but the floccular sludge regained Accumulibacter numbers and phosphorus-removal performance. These findings suggest that bacteriophage may play a significant role in determining the structure and function of bacterial communities in activated sludges.

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