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A Practical Method for Quantification of Phosphorus- and Glycogen-Accumulating Organism Populations in Activated Sludge Systems

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Enhanced biological phosphorus removal (EBPR) from wastewater relies on the enrichment of activated sludge with phosphorus-accumulating organisms (PAOs). The presence and proliferation of glycogen-accumulating organisms (GAOs), which compete for substrate with PAOs, may be detrimental for EBPR systems, leading to deterioration and, in extreme cases, failure of the process. Therefore, from both process evaluation and modeling perspectives, the estimation of PAO and GAO populations in activated sludge systems is a relevant issue. A simple method for the quantification of PAO and GAO population fractions in activated sludge systems is presented in this paper. To develop such a method, the activity observed in anaerobic batch tests executed with different PAO/GAO ratios, by mixing highly enriched PAO and GAO cultures, was studied. Strong correlations between PAO/GAO population ratios and biomass activity were observed (R 2 > 0.97). This served as a basis for the proposal of a simple and practical method to quantify the PAO and GAO populations in activated sludge systems, based on commonly measured and reliable analytical parameters (i.e., mixed liquor suspended solids, acetate, and orthophosphate) without requiring molecular techniques. This method relies on the estimation of the total active biomass population under anaerobic conditions (PAO plus GAO populations), by measuring the maximum acetate uptake rate in the presence of excess acetate. Later, the PAO and GAO populations present in the activated sludge system can be estimated, by taking into account the PAO/GAO ratio calculated on the basis of the anaerobic phosphorus release-to-acetate consumed ratio. The proposed method was evaluated using activated sludge from municipal wastewater treatment plants. The results from the quantification performed following the proposed method were compared with direct population estimations carried out with fluorescence in situ hybridization analysis (determining Candidatus Accumulibacter Phosphatis as PAO and Candidatus Competibacter Phosphatis as GAO). The method showed to be potentially suitable to estimate the PAO and GAO populations regarding the total PAO–GAO biomass. It could be used, not only to evaluate the performance of EBPR systems, but also in the calibration of potential activated sludge mathematical models, regarding the PAO–GAO coexistence.

Keywords: enhanced biological phosphorus removal; glycogen-accumulating organisms; method; phosphorus-accumulating organisms; quantification

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: December 1, 2007

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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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