Environmental biology

Absolute dominance of hydrogenotrophic methanogens in full-scale anaerobic sewage sludge digesters

Jaai Kim , Woong Kim , Changsoo Lee


Received January 07, 2013,Revised April 09, 2013, Accepted , Available online November 01, 2013

Volume ,2013,Pages 2272-2280

Anaerobic digestion (AD) is gaining increasing attention due to the ability to covert organic pollutants into energy-rich biogas and, accordingly, growing interest is paid to the microbial ecology of AD systems. Despite extensive efforts, AD microbial ecology is still limitedly understood, especially due to the lack of quantitative information on the structures and dynamics of AD microbial communities. Such knowledge gap is particularly pronounced in sewage sludge AD processes although treating sewage sludge is among the major practical applications of AD. Therefore, we examined the microbial communities in three full-scale sewage sludge digesters using qualitative and quantitative molecular techniques in combination: denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) and real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Eight out of eleven bacterial sequences retrieved from the DGGE analysis were not affiliated to any known species while all eleven archaeal sequences were assigned to known methanogen species. Quantitative real-time PCR analysis revealed that, based on the 16S rRNA gene abundance, the hydrogenotrophic order Methanomicrobiales is the most dominant methanogen group (> 94% of the total methanogen population) in all digesters. This corresponds well to the prevailing occurrence of the DGGE bands related to Methanolinea and Methanospirillum, both belonging to the order Methanomicrobiales, in all sludge samples. It is therefore suggested that hydrogenotrophic methanogens, especially Methanomicrobiales strains, are likely the major players responsible for biogas production in the digesters studied. Our observation is contrary to the conventional understanding that aceticlastic methanogens generally dominate methanogen communities in stable AD environments, suggesting the need for further studies on the dominance relationship in various AD systems.

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