Growth and break-up of methanogenic granules suggests mechanisms for biofilm and community development

Anna Christine Trego, Evan Galvin, Conor Sweeney, Sinéad Dunning, Cillian Murphy, Simon Mills, Corine Nzeteu, Christopher Quince, Stephanie Connelly, Umer Zeeshan Ijaz, Gavin Collins

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16 Citations (Scopus)


Methanogenic sludge granules are densely packed, small, spherical biofilms found in anaerobic digesters used to treat industrial wastewaters, where they underpin efficient organic waste conversion and biogas production. Each granule theoretically houses representative microorganisms from all of the trophic groups implicated in the successive and interdependent reactions of the anaerobic digestion (AD) process. Information on exactly how methanogenic granules develop, and their eventual fate will be important for precision management of environmental biotechnologies. Granules from a full-scale bioreactor were size-separated into small (0.6–1 mm), medium (1–1.4 mm), and large (1.4–1.8 mm) size fractions. Twelve laboratory-scale bioreactors were operated using either small, medium, or large granules, or unfractionated sludge. After >50 days of operation, the granule size distribution in each of the small, medium, and large bioreactor sets had diversified beyond—to both bigger and smaller than—the size fraction used for inoculation. Interestingly, extra-small (XS; <0.6 mm) granules were observed, and retained in all of the bioreactors, suggesting the continuous nature of granulation, and/or the breakage of larger granules into XS bits. Moreover, evidence suggested that even granules with small diameters could break. “New” granules from each emerging size were analyzed by studying community structure based on high-throughput 16S rRNA gene sequencing. Methanobacterium, Aminobacterium, Propionibacteriaceae, and Desulfovibrio represented the majority of the community in new granules. H2-using, and not acetoclastic, methanogens appeared more important, and were associated with abundant syntrophic bacteria. Multivariate integration (MINT) analyses identified distinct discriminant taxa responsible for shaping the microbial communities in different-sized granules.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1126
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jun 2020


  • anaerobic digestion
  • biofilms
  • methanogens
  • microbial communities
  • sludge granules
  • wastewater

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