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Better sludge through metagenomics

stewater are treated daily in the U.S. alone. Even a marginal improvement in the process would translate into huge savings and spell relief for environmental engineers.

David Jenkins is Professor Emeritus of Environmental Engineering at the University of California at Berkeley. His research spans some forty years of international professional practice in water and wastewater chemistry and wastewater treatment for government, municipalities, and industry. He has specialized in the chemical precipitation of phosphate from wastewater and sludges, the causes and control of activated sludge bulking and foaming, and biological nutrient removal.

"The findings and tools described in this landmark paper will allow the resolution of many of the questions that have arisen concerning the mechanism by which the enhanced removal of phosphate from wastewater occurs," said Jenkins. "Understanding these mechanisms will undoubtedly lead to more efficient operation of the process and to the development of more robust designs."

Microorganisms are well equipped to do the job, but activated sludge is a black box, at least for those engineers who are dependent on the microbial aspect of the equation. To shed some light on the challenge, the team compared sludge samples from wastewater plants in Madison, Wisconsin, and Brisbane, Australia, that they maintained in laboratory-scale bioreactors to control and monitor the status of the sludge microbial communities.

"We found functions that didn't make sense for the current lifestyle of the organism," said Phil Hugenholtz, head of the JGI's Microbial Ecology Program. "Accumulibacter has all the genes necessary to fix carbon and nitrogen, which it would be compelled to do in a nutrient-poor environment like freshwater, but it presumably wouldn't have much use for in nutrient-rich EBPR sludge. So it got us thinking that these bacteria must be living in natural habitats and that they have become opportunis
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Source:DOE/Joint Genome Institute


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