Roadmap from Microbial Communities to Individuality Modeling for Anaerobic Digestion of Sewage Sludge

Valeria Alvarado, Shu Chien Hsu, Zhuoying Wu, Huichuan Zhuang, Po Heng Lee, Jeremy S. Guest

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Biological models describing anaerobic digestion (AD) of sewage sludge have been widely applied to test various control and operation strategies. Anaerobic digestion model 1 (ADM1) provides a generic platform that includes the main processes of AD, excluding homoacetogenesis and the microbial structure. Homoacetogenic bacteria have been identified as important competitors for hydrogen consumption and acetate production. Although recent advances in meta-omics techniques have improved our characterization of AD microbial communities, conventional models treat functional groups as homogeneous and overlook the physiology and behavior of microbial individuality, limiting insights into mechanisms governing process performance. A novel microbial individuality model (MIM) that integrates kinetics, energetics, and agent-based modeling to describe a microbiome's behavior as heterogenic populations, including homoacetogenesis, was developed. The MIM was validated with two datasets from previous studies through daily biogas production, methane content, compound concentrations, and microbial relative abundance changes. The MIM identified the emergence of Methanosaeta at low concentrations of acetate. Moreover, this simulation supports experimental studies confirming that the overlooked homoacetogenesis is an important hydrogen sink in AD. Validated MIMs are expected to provide insights into syntrophic and competitive interactions among microbiomes in AD systems while testing different operational parameters in a virtual environment. The MIM offers a methodological framework to other biological treatment systems and their microbial community dynamics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
StateAccepted/In press - 2021


  • agent-based model
  • anaerobic digestion
  • kinetics
  • microbial ecology
  • thermodynamics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry


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