Applied and Environmental Microbiology 70(1) , 588-596 (Jan 2004)
A denitrifying microbial consortium was enriched in an anoxically operated, methanol-fed sequencing batch reactor (SBR) fed with a mineral salts medium containing methanol as the sole carbon source and nitrate as the electron acceptor. The SBR was inoculated with sludge from a biological nutrient removal activated sludge plant exhibiting good denitrification. The SBR denitrification rate improved from less than 0.02 mg of NO3-.N mg of mixed-liquor volatile suspended solids (MLVSS)(-1) h(-1) to a steady-state value of 0.06 mg of NO3-.N mg of MLVSS-1 h(-1) over a 7-month operational period. At this time, the enriched microbial community was subjected to stable-isotope probing (SIP) with [C-13] methanol to biomark the DNA of the denitrifiers. The extracted [C-13]DNA and [C-12]DNA from the SIP experiment were separately subjected to full-cycle rRNA analysis. The dominant 16S rRNA gene phylotype (group A clones) in the [C-13]DNA clone library was closely related to those of the obligate methylotrophs Methylobacillus and Methylophilus in the order Methylophilales of the Betaproteobacteria (96 to 97% sequence identities), while the most abundant clone groups in the [C-12]DNA clone library mostly belonged to the family Saprospiraceae in the Bacteroidetes phylum. Oligonucleotide probes for use in fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) were designed to specifically target the group A clones and Methylophilales (probes DEN67 and MET1216, respectively) and the Saprospiraceae clones (probe SAP553). Application of these probes to the SBR biomass over the enrichment period demonstrated a strong correlation between the level of SBR denitrification and relative abundance of DEN67-targeted bacteria in the SBR community. By contrast, there was no correlation between the denitrification rate and the relative abundances of the well-known denitrifying genera Hyphomicrobium and Paracoccus or the Saprospiraceae clones visualized by FISH in the SBR biomass. FISH combined with microautoradiography independently confirmed that the DEN67-targeted cells were the dominant bacterial group capable of anoxic [C-14] methanol uptake in the enriched biomass. The well-known denitrification lag period in the methanol-fed SBR was shown to coincide with a lag phase in growth of the DEN67-targeted denitrifying population. We conclude that Methylophilales bacteria are the dominant denitrifiers in our SBR system and likely are important denitrifiers in full-scale methanol-fed denitrifying sludges.