Structure of microbial communities in activated sludge: Potential implications for assessing the biodegradability of chemicals

L. J. Forney, W. T. Liu, J. B. Guckert, Y. Kumagai, E. Namkung, T. Nishihara, R. J. Larson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Various methods used to assess the biodegradability of chemicals often employ activated sludge as an inoculum since chemicals that ultimately enter the environment are often discharged through wastewater. Differences in the structure and function of activated sludge microbial communities that may complicate interpretation of biodegradation tests could arise from differences in wastewater composition, wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) operation, or manipulations done after collection of the activated sludge. In this study, various methods were used to characterize the structure of microbial communities found in freshly collected activated sludge from WWTPs in Japan, Europe, and the United States, as well as sludge that had been continuously fed either sewage or a glucose-peptone mixture for several weeks after collection. Comparisons of biomass levels, whole-community substrate utilization (determined using Biolog GN and GP plates), and phospholipid fatty acid (PLFA) profiles indicated there were both geographical and temporal differences among freshly collected activated sludge samples. Moreover, marked shifts in the structure of activated sludge microbial communities occurred upon continuous cultivation in the laboratory for 5 weeks using a glucose-peptone feed. These shifts were evident from whole-community suhstrate utilization and PLFA profiles as well as differences in the profiles of 16S rDNA genes from numerically dominant populations obtained by denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis and terminal restriction fragment analyses. Further studies are needed to better define the variability within and between activated sludge from wastewater treatment plants and laboratory reactors and to assess the impact of such differences on the outcome of biodegradability tests.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)40-53
Number of pages14
JournalEcotoxicology and Environmental Safety
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Activated sludge
  • Biodegradation
  • Biodiversity
  • Microbial communities
  • Wastewater treatment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pollution
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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