Stimulation of phosphate uptake and polyphosphate accumulation by activated sludge microorganisms in response to sulfite addition

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Enhanced phosphate removal from wastewaters is dependent on the synthesis and intracellular accumulation of polyphosphate by sludge microorganisms. However the role played by polyphosphate in microbial metabolism and the factors that trigger its formation remain poorly-understood. Many examples of the accumulation of the biopolymer by environmental microorganisms are documented; these include a recent report of the presence of large polyphosphate inclusions in sulfur-oxidizing marine bacteria. To investigate whether any link might exist outside the marine environment between the presence of reduced sulfur compounds and enhanced levels of microbial phosphate uptake and polyphosphate accumulation, activated sludge cultures were grown under laboratory conditions in media that contained sulfite, thiosulfate, hydrosulfite or tetrathionate. Only in the presence of sulfite was there any evidence of a stimulatory effect; in medium that contained 0.5 mM sodium sulfite some 17% more phosphate was removed by the sludge, whilst there was an almost two-fold increase in intracellular polyphosphate levels. No indications of sulfite toxicity were observed.

Keywords: biological phosphate removal, polyphosphate accumulation, sulfite

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