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Water Res. 2012 Apr 15;46(6):1793-802. doi: 10.1016/j.watres.2011.12.053. Epub 2012 Jan 11.

Molecular indicators of Nitrobacter spp. population and growth activity during an induced inhibition event in a bench scale nitrification reactor.

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The University of Tennessee, Department of Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science, 310 Biosystems Engineering and Environmental Sciences Office, 2506 E.J. Chapman Drive, Knoxville, TN 37996-4531, USA.


The Nitrobacter spp. ribosomal RNA gene (rDNA) and transcript (rRNAt) abundance were quantified in a bench scale nitrification reactor during baseline periods of high nitrification efficiency and an intervening staged inhibition event. The transcript to gene ratio (rRNAt/rDNA) was highly sensitive to changes in the reactor nitrite oxidation rate. During high nitrification efficiency, the rRNAt/rDNA metric displayed a range from 0.68 to 2.01 with one-sided (α=0.10) lower and upper prediction intervals of 0.70 and 1.78, respectively. When nitrification was inhibited by disabling the reactor pH control system, this activity metric declined an order of magnitude to ≈ 0.05, well below the lower prediction interval reflecting high nitrification efficiency. The decline was rapid (2h) and preceded a significant drop in reactor nitrification performance, which occurred as ammonia accumulated. The rRNAt/rDNA ratio remained low (≈ 0.05) for several days after the pH control system was re-enabled at a setpoint of 8.0, which otherwise induced rapid oxidation of accumulated ammonia and produced high free ammonia concentrations. The timing of a subsequent increase in the rRNAt/rDNA ratio, which transiently exceeded the upper prediction interval established during the baseline period of high nitrification efficiency, was not coincidental with resumption of pH control at 7.2 that lowered free ammonia concentrations to non-inhibitory levels. Rather, nitrite oxidation resumed and the rRNAt/rDNA ratio increased only after oxidation of accumulated ammonia was complete, which was coincidental with reduced reactor oxygen demand. In summary, the Nitrobacter rRNAt/rDNA activity metric reflected timely and easily recognizable changes in nitrite oxidation activity, illustrating that molecular data can be used to diagnose poor biological wastewater treatment performance.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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