Occurrence and enrichment of ‘bacterial sherpas’: climb to sustainability in wastewater treatment

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Courtesy of IWA Publishing

The paper presents research on hemoglobin (Hb)-expressing bacteria in biological wastewater treatment systems. The outcome(s) will greatly reduce the aeration needs of wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) and provide insight into emerging biological nitrogen removal processes using low dissolved oxygen (DO) conditions. In anthropogenic terms, the bacteria that express Hb could be considered as ‘bacterial sherpas’ that can function under low DO conditions. Hitherto, this functionality of bacteria has not been realized due to the initial response of the aerobic treatment stage: namely, morphology change by bacteria to filamentous forms to overcome oxygen mass transfer limitations causing bulking/foaming and nitrification inhibition. There is evidence, however, of the potential expression of Hb proteins by activated sludge (AS) bacteria. First, bacteria known to possess genes coding Hb proteins have been isolated from AS systems. Secondly, there is evidence that WWTPs are able to operate their biological processes at low DO without sludge bulking or incomplete nitrification. Our research has focused on nitrifying systems and has shown that this is due to prolonged operation at low DO conditions (0.1 mg O2/L), which allows sufficient time for bacterial acclimation. Additionally, it has been shown that enhanced Hb expression is linked to acclimation to low DO conditions.

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