Impact of operating history on mixed culture fermentation microbial ecology and product mixture

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Mixed culture fermentation is an alternative to pure culture fermentation for production of biofuels and valuable products. A glucose-fed, continuous reactor was operated cyclically to a central pH of 5.5 from a number of precedent pHs, from 4.5 to 7.5. At each pH, stable chemical production was reached after 2 retention times and was held for least 2 further retention times prior to the next change. Bacterial groups were identified by phylogenetic analysis of 16S rRNA gene clones. Bacterial community dynamics were monitored by terminal-restriction fragment length polymorphism. More ethanol was produced at high pH, and more butyrate at lower pH. At pH 5.5, the product spectrum was not measurably influenced by precedent pH but showed seemingly random changes. The impact of precedent pH on community structure was more systematic, with clear indications that when the pH was returned to 5.5, the bacterial group that was dominant at the precedent pH remained at high abundance. This result is important, since it indicates a decoupling between microbial function (as indicated by product spectrum), and community structure. More work is needed to determine the longevity of this hysteresis effect. There was evidence that groups retained their ability to re-emerge even after times of low abundance.

Keywords: ethanol, fermentation, glucose, hydrogen, hysteresis, mixed culture

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