Metagenomic Analysis of a Continuous-Flow Aerobic Granulation System for Wastewater Treatment
Aerobic granulation is an emerging process in wastewater treatment that has the potential to accelerate sedimentation of the microbial biomass during secondary treatment. Aerobic granulation has been difficult to achieve in the continuous flow reactors (CFRs) used in modern wastewater treatment plants. Recent research has demonstrated that the alternation of nutrient-abundant (feast) and nutrient-limiting (famine) conditions is able to promote aerobic granulation in a CFR. In this study, we conducted a metagenomic analysis with the objective of characterizing the bacterial composition of the granular biomass developed in three simulated plug flow reactors (PFRs) with different feast-to-famine ratios. Phylogenetic analyses revealed a clear distinction between the bacterial composition of aerobic granules in the pilot simulated PFRs as compared with conventional activated sludge. Larger and denser granules, showing improved sedimentation properties, were observed in the PFR with the longest famine time and were characterized by a greater proportion of bacteria producing abundant extracellular polymeric substances (EPS). Functional metagenomic analysis based on KEGG pathways indicated that the large and dense aerobic granules in the PFR with the longest famine time showed increased functionalities related to secretion systems and quorum sensing, which are characteristics of bacteria in biofilms and aerobic granules. This study contributes to a further understanding of the relationship between aerobic granule morphology and the bacterial composition of the granular biomass.