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Fluctuation of microbial activities after influent load variations in a full-scale SBR: recovery of the biomass after starvation


Due to variations in the production levels, a full-scale sequencing batch reactor (SBR) for post-treatment of tannery wastewater was exposed to low and high ammonia load periods. In order to study how these changes affected the N-removal capacity, the microbiology of the reactor was studied by a diverse set of techniques including molecular tools, activity tests, and microbial counts in samples taken along 3 years. The recover capacity of the biomass was also studied in a lab-scale reactor operated with intermittent aeration without feeding for 36 days. The results showed that changes in the feeding negatively affected the nitrifying community, but the nitrogen removal efficiencies could be restored after the concentration stress. Species substitution was observed within the nitrifying bacteria, Nitrosomonas europaea and Nitrobacter predominated initially, and after an ammonia overload period, Nitrosomonas nitrosa and Nitrospira became dominant. Some denitrifiers, with nirS related to Alicycliphilus, Azospirillum, and Marinobacter nirS, persisted during long-term reactor operation, but the community fluctuated both in composition and in abundance. This fluctuating community may better resist the continuous changes in the feeding regime. Our results showed that a nitrifying–denitrifying SBR could be operated with low loads or even without feeding during production shut down periods.

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The authors are grateful to the Center for Microbial Ecology in the Michigan State University for assistance in the cloning libraries and sequences. The authors also are grateful to the personal in charge of the WWTP in the tannery in Uruguay for providing data and samples. Financial support for this study was provided by CSIC-SP from the Universidad de la República in Uruguay.

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Correspondence to Claudia Etchebehere.

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Cabezas, A., Draper, P. & Etchebehere, C. Fluctuation of microbial activities after influent load variations in a full-scale SBR: recovery of the biomass after starvation. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol 84, 1191–1202 (2009).

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  • Nitrification
  • Denitrification
  • Full scale
  • Long term
  • Community analysis
  • SBR