A review and update of the microbiology of enhanced biological phosphorus removal in wastewater treatment plants

L.L. Blackall, G. Crocetti, A.M. Saunders, P.L. Bond

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176 Citations (Scopus)


Enhanced biological phosphorus removal (EBPR) from wastewater can be more-or-less practically achieved but the microbiological and biochemical components are not completely understood. EBPR involves cycling microbial biomass and influent wastewater through anaerobic and aerobic zones to achieve a selection of microorganisms with high capacity to accumulate polyphosphate intracellularly in the aerobic period. Biochemical or metabolic modelling of the process has been used to explain the types of carbon and phosphorus transformations in sludge biomass. There are essentially two broad-groupings of microorganisms involved in EBPR. They are polyphosphate accumulating organisms (PAOs) and their supposed carbon-competitors called glycogen accumulating organisms (GAOs). The morphological appearance of microorganisms in EBPR sludges has attracted attention. For example, GAOs as tetrad-arranged cocci and clusters of coccobacillus-shaped PAOs have been much commented upon and the use of simple cellular staining methods has contributed to EBPR knowledge. Acinetobacter and other bacteria were regularly isolated in pure culture from EBPR sludges and were initially thought to be PAOs. However, when contemporary molecular microbial ecology methods in concert with detailed process performance data and simple intracellular polymer staining methods were used, a betaproteobacteria called ‘Candidatus Accumulibacter phosphatis’ was confirmed as a PAO and organisms from a novel gammaproteobacteria lineage were GAOs. To preclude making the mistakes of previous researchers, it is recommended that the sludge ‘biography’ be well understood – i.e. details of phenotype (process performance and biochemistry) and microbial community structure should be linked.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)681-691
Number of pages11
JournalAntonie van Leeuwenhoek International Journal of General and Molecular Microbiology
Issue number1-4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2002

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