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Microb Cell Fact. 2016 Apr 25;15:65. doi: 10.1186/s12934-016-0466-y.

A mesophilic anaerobic digester for treating food waste: process stability and microbial community analysis using pyrosequencing.

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Key Laboratory of Three Gorges Reservoir Region's Eco-Environment, Ministry of Education, Chongqing University, Chongqing, 400045, China.
Key Laboratory of Three Gorges Reservoir Region's Eco-Environment, Ministry of Education, Chongqing University, Chongqing, 400045, China.



Anaerobic digesters become unstable when operated at a high organi c loading rate (OLR). Investigating the microbial community response to OLR disturbance is helpful for achieving efficient and stable process operation. However, previous studies have only focused on community succession during different process stages. How does community succession influence process stability? Is this kind of succession resilient? Are any key microbial indicator closely related to process stability? Such relationships between microbial communities and process stability are poorly understood.


In this study, a mesophilic anaerobic digester for treating food waste (FW) was operated to study the microbial diversity and dynamicity due to OLR disturbance. Overloading resulted in proliferation of acidogenic bacteria, and the resulting high volatile fatty acid (VFA) yield triggered an abundance of acetogenic bacteria. However, the abundance and metabolic efficiency of hydrogenotrophic methanogens decreased after disturbance, and as a consequence, methanogens and acetogenic bacteria could not efficiently complete the syntrophy. This stress induced the proliferation of homoacetogens as alternative hydrogenotrophs for converting excessive H2 to acetate. However, the susceptible Methanothrix species also failed to degrade the excessive acetate. This metabolic imbalance finally led to process deterioration. After process recovery, the digester gradually returned to its original operational conditions, reached close to its original performance, and the microbial community profile achieved a new steady-state. Interestingly, the abundance of Syntrophomonas and Treponema increased during the deteriorative stage and rebounded after disturbance, suggesting they were resilient groups.


Acidogenic bacteria showed high functional redundancy, rapidly adapted to the increased OLR, and shaped new microbial community profiles. The genera Syntrophomonas and Treponema were resilient groups. This observation provides insight into the key microbial indicator that are closely related to process stability. Moreover, the succession of methanogens during the disturbance phase was unsuitable for the metabolic function needed at high OLR. This contradiction resulted in process deterioration. Thus, methanogenesis is the main step that interferes with the stable operation of digesters at high OLR. Further studies on identifying and breeding high-efficiency methanogens may be helpful for breaking the technical bottleneck of process instability and achieving stable operation under high OLR.


Anaerobic digestion; Food waste; Microbial community; OLR disturbance; Process stability

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