Polyphosphate-accumulating organisms in full-scale tropical wastewater treatment plants use diverse carbon sources

Water Research, Elsevier, ISSN 0043-1354

Volume 149, 2019

DOI:10.1016/j.watres.2018.11.011, Dimensions: pub.1109786101, PMID: 30476778,



  1. (1) Nanyang Technological University, grid.59025.3b
  2. (2) University of California, Davis, grid.27860.3b
  3. (3) National University of Singapore, grid.4280.e
  4. (4) Aalborg University, grid.5117.2, AAU


Enhanced biological phosphorus removal (EBPR) is considered challenging in the tropics, based on a great number of laboratory-based studies showing that the polyphosphate-accumulating organism (PAO) Candidatus Accumulibacter does not compete well with glycogen accumulating organisms (GAOs) at temperatures above 25 °C. Yet limited information is available on the PAO community and the metabolic capabilities in full-scale EBPR systems operating at high temperature. We studied the composition of the key functional PAO communities in three full-scale wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) with high in-situ EBPR activity in Singapore, their EBPR-associated carbon usage characteristics, and the relationship between carbon usage and community composition. Each plant had a signature community composed of diverse putative PAOs with multiple operational taxonomic units (OTUs) affiliated to Ca. Accumulibacter, Tetrasphaera spp., Dechloromonas and Ca. Obscuribacter. Despite the differences in community composition, ex-situ anaerobic phosphorus (P)-release tests with 24 organic compounds from five categories (including four sugars, three alcohols, three volatile fatty acids (VFAs), eight amino acids and six other carboxylic acids) showed that a wide range of organic compounds could potentially contribute to EBPR. VFAs induced the highest P release (12.0-18.2 mg P/g MLSS for acetate with a P release-to-carbon uptake (P:C) ratio of 0.35-0.66 mol P/mol C, 9.4-18.5 mg P/g MLSS for propionate with a P:C ratio of 0.38-0.60, and 9.5-17.3 mg P/g MLSS for n-butyrate), followed by some carboxylic acids (10.1-18.1 mg P/g MLSS for pyruvate, 4.5-11.7 mg P/g MLSS for lactate and 3.7-12.4 mg P/g MLSS for fumarate) and amino acids (3.66-7.33 mg P/g MLSS for glutamate with a P:C ratio of 0.16-0.43 mol P/mol C, and 4.01-7.37 mg P/g MLSS for aspartate with a P:C ratio of 0.17-0.48 mol P/mol C). P-release profiles (induced by different carbon sources) correlated closely with PAO community composition. High micro-diversity was observed within the Ca. Accumulibacter lineage, which represented the most abundant PAOs. The total population of Ca. Accumulibacter taxa was highly correlated with P-release induced by VFAs, highlighting the latter's importance in tropical EBPR systems. There was a strong link between the relative abundance of individual Ca. Accumulibacter OTUs and the extent of P release induced by distinct carbon sources (e.g., OTU 81 and amino acids, and OTU 246 and ethanol), suggesting niche differentiation among Ca. Accumulibacter taxa. A diverse PAO community and the ability to use numerous organic compounds are considered key factors for stable EBPR in full-scale plants at elevated temperatures.


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