Microbiota adaptation after an alkaline pH perturbation in a full-scale UASB anaerobic reactor treating dairy wastewater

  • Cecilia CallejasEmail author
  • Alfonsina Fernández
  • Mauricio Passeggi
  • Jorge Wenzel
  • Patricia Bovio
  • Liliana Borzacconi
  • Claudia Etchebehere
Research Paper


The aim of this study was to understand how the microbial community adapted to changes, including a pH perturbation, occurring during the start-up and operation processes in a full-scale methanogenic UASB reactor designed to treat dairy wastewater. The reactor performance, prokaryotic community, and lipid degradation capacity were monitored over a 9-month period. The methanogenic community was studied by mcrA/mrtA gene copy-number quantification and methanogenic activity tests. A diverse prokaryotic community characterized the seeding sludge as assessed by sequencing the V4 region of the 16S rRNA gene. As the feeding began, the bacterial community was dominated by Firmicutes, Synergistetes, and Proteobacteria phyla. After an accidental pH increase that affected the microbial community structure, a sharp increase in the relative abundance of Clostridia and a decrease in the mcrA/mrtA gene copy number and methanogenic activity were observed. After a recovery period, the microbial population regained diversity and methanogenic activity. Alkaline shocks are likely to happen in dairy wastewater treatment because of the caustic soda usage. In this work, the plasticity of the prokaryotic community was key to surviving changes to the external environment and supporting biogas production in the reactor.


UASB Full-scale Dairy wastewater 16S rRNA gene sequencing qPCR mcrA gene 



Anaerobic digestion


Chemical oxygen demand


Expanded granular sludge bed


Fat, oil and grease


Hydraulic retention time


Long-chain fatty acid


Organic loading rate


Operational taxonomic unit


Specific fatty-acid degradation activity


Specific loading rate


Specific methanogenic activity


Sludge retention time


Upflow anaerobic sludge blanket


Volatile suspended solids



This work was supported by the project grant ANII FSE 17. Cecilia Callejas was funded by ANII (PhD thesis grant).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

449_2019_2198_MOESM1_ESM.docx (2.4 mb)
Supplementary file1 (DOCX 2487 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.BIOPROA, Faculty of Engineering, Institute of Chemical EngineeringUniversidad de La RepúblicaMontevideoUruguay
  2. 2.Microbial Ecology Laboratory, BioGem DepartmentBiological Research Institute Clemente Estable, Ministry of EducationMontevideoUruguay

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