The role of homoacetogenic bacteria as efficient hydrogen scavengers in microbial electrochemical cells (MXCs)

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We evaluated the consumption of hydrogen gas at the anode of a microbial electrolysis cell (MEC) and characterized the significance of new interactions between anode respiring bacteria (ARB) and homo-acetogens. We demonstrated the significance of biofilm limitation for direct consumption of H2 over acetate by ARB, using the deep biofilm model. Selective inhibition of the major competing hydrogen sink at the biofilm anode, methanogenesis, resulted in significant increase in electron recovery as electric current (∼10–12 A/m2). The presence of acetate at high concentration in the anode compartment and detection of formate, a known intermediate of the acetyl-CoA pathway, provide evidence towards the role of homoacetogenic bacteria. We also assessed the activity of homoacetogens with reverse transcription quantitative PCR targeting formyltetrahydrofolate synthetase (FTHFS) transcripts, and observed a comparable decrease in the FTHFS transcript numbers with current density and acetate concentrations as we decreased the HRT below 4.5 h. The biofilm anode community was predominated by Deltaproteobacteria (70% of total readouts) along with a fraction of the homoacetogenic genus, Acetobacterium (4% of total readouts), established by pyrosequencing targeting the V6 region of the 16S rRNA. Homoacetogens seem to play a major role as syntrophic members of the biofilm anode community when electron recovery is high.

Keywords: deep biofilm, formyl tetrahydrofolate synthetase (FTHFS), homoacetogens

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