Application of Molecular Techniques to the Characterization of a Nitrifying Bioaugmentation Culture


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Virginia Tech


Nitrification is the biological process whereby ammonia is converted first to nitrite by ammonia-oxidizing bacteria, and then the nitrite is subsequently converted to nitrate by nitrite-oxidizing bacteria. Ammonia and nitrite levels are closely monitored during treatment of wastewater due to their toxicity to other biological processes. Sybron Chemicals, Inc., is a company that manufactures a nitrifying bioaugmentation culture (1010N) that is used to enhance the naturally occurring levels of biological nitrification. The microbial population of the 1010N product has been examined using a combination of conventional bacteriological methods and modern molecular techniques, with the goal of developing nucleic acid probes that can be used to detect the product in an environmental sample. Small regions of the 16S rRNA genes of the bacteria in 1010N (and two new nitrifying enrichment cultures) were amplified via the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and analyzed via temperature gradient gel electrophoresis (TGGE). TGGE is a procedure that allows for separation and visualization of individual PCR products that are the same size, based on differences in their sequence. Two of the predominant PCR products in 1010N were purified from the TGGE gel matrix, reamplified via PCR, and sequenced to allow for phylogenetic analysis and nucleic acid probe design. Coincidentally, two strains (NS500-9 and MPN2) that had been isolated from the 1010N mixed consortium and grown in pure culture were found, via TGGE, to have identical 16S rRNA sequences to the PCR products under investigation. Nearly the full-length 16S rRNA genes from these two organisms were PCR amplified, cloned, and sequenced in order to provide a basis for more accurate phylogenetic analysis. The two dominant organisms in the 1010N product, NS500-9 and MPN2, were thereby found to be most closely related to Nitrosomonas and Nitrobacter, respectively, in the existing database. Using the nucleic acid sequences of the cloned DNA, organism-specific DNA probes were designed for both NS500-9 and MPN2. Unfortunately, difficulties were encountered in using the probes to monitor 1010N activity levels via quantitative dot blot hybridizations (rRNA-DNA). Therefore, efforts were redirected to using the TGGE semi-quantitatively with an internal PCR standard (Brüggeman, et al., 2000) to estimate original cell numbers of 1010N within a mixed consortium. This method was not applicable to our system due to substantial preferential binding of the primers to template other than the standard. Samples from a laboratory-scale bioreactor, bioaugmented with 1010N, were used in an attempt to correlate an increase in activity with a detectable shift in population via TGGE. No detectable shift in population was detected in these samples even though the system exhibited increased levels of nitrification. Therefore, the sensitivity of the TGGE system was also examined by determining the limits of detection when 1010N was present in activated sludge. In both whole cell spiking experiments and genomic DNA spiking experiments, it was found that 1010N must be present at a level of at least 5% of the total population in order to be detected. While this provides some information about microbial populations, in order to evaluate the biological activity of a system, nucleic acid probes should be used in a rRNA based study.



TGGE, dot blot hybridization, 16S rRNA, nucleic acid probe design, PCR, nitrification