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Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. 2015 Jul;99(14):6139-54. doi: 10.1007/s00253-015-6603-4. Epub 2015 May 7.

Bioprospecting of microalgae for integrated biomass production and phytoremediation of unsterilized wastewater and anaerobic digestion centrate.

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Department of Geography & Environmental Engineering, Johns Hopkins University, 3400 North Charles Street, Baltimore, MD, 21218-2686, USA,


Eighteen microalgae, including two local isolates, were evaluated for their ability to grow and remove nutrients from unsterilized primary or secondary wastewater effluents as well as wastewater supplemented with nutrient-rich anaerobic digester centrate (ADC). Most of the tested species except several phylogenetically clustered Chlorella sorokiniana including local isolates and Scenedesmus strains were unable to grow efficiently. This may reflect the presence of certain genetic traits important for robust growth in the unsterilized wastewater. The maximum algal-specific growth rates and biomass density obtained in these bacterial-contaminated cultures were in the range of 0.8-1 day(-1) and 250-350 mg L(-1), respectively. ADC supplementation was especially helpful to biologically treated secondary effluent with its lower initial macronutrient and micronutrient content. As a result of algal growth, total nitrogen and orthophosphate levels were reduced by as much as 90 and 70 %, respectively. Biological assimilation was estimated to be the main mechanism of nitrogen removal in primary and secondary effluents with ammonia volatilization and bacterial nitrification-denitrification contributing for cultures supplemented with ADC. Assimilation by algae served as the principal mechanism of orthophosphate remediation in secondary wastewater cultures, while chemical precipitation appeared also to be important for orthophosphate removal in primary wastewater. Overall, cultivation of microalgae in primary and primary + 5 % ADC may be more favorable from an economical and sustainability perspective due to elimination of the costly and energy-intensive biological treatment step. These findings demonstrate that unsterilized wastewater and ADC can serve as critical nutrient sources for biomass generation and that robust microalgae can be potent players in wastewater phytoremediation.

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