The Role of Molecular Methods in Evaluating Biological Treatment Processes

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Methods derived from molecular biology provide powerful new tools to analyze biological treatment processes. Because molecular methods can be used to directly interrogate genetic information about the microbial community, they can provide the fine detail that is impossible with the blunt, nondiscriminating information usually obtained from more traditional measures such as biochemical oxygen demand and volatile suspended solids. Molecular methods allow tracking of critical groups of microorganisms, such as ammonia oxidizers, that comprise a small fraction of the total biomass. Molecular methods also allow tracking of specific metabolic reactions or other functions that are key to the satisfactory performance of a system. Despite their power, molecular methods do not provide sufficient information when used alone. Aggregated measures and quantitative modeling remain necessary to establish mass balances, quantify the function of the microbial community, and connect the results of molecular assays to practice. Several examples involving nitrifying bacteria in activated sludge illustrate the fine detail available with molecular methods and how they can be linked to traditional and quantitative analyses. Other manuscripts in this special issue also provide examples of the value of using molecular tools in combination with traditional methods.


Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: September 1, 2002

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  • Water Environment Research® (WER®) publishes peer-reviewed research papers, research notes, state-of-the-art and critical reviews on original, fundamental and applied research in all scientific and technical areas related to water quality, pollution control, and management. An annual Literature Review provides a review of published books and articles on water quality topics from the previous year.

    Published as: Sewage Works Journal, 1928 - 1949; Sewage and Industrial Wastes, 1950 - 1959; Journal Water Pollution Control Federation, 1959 - Oct 1989; Research Journal Water Pollution Control Federation, Nov 1989 - 1991; Water Environment Research, 1992 - present.
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