Bulking sludges were investigated in seven industrial or municipal activated sludge treatment plants from Denmark, Germany and Australia. The dominating filaments were all identified as type 021N according to the Eikelboom key. The extent of variability in the filament taxonomy was assessed using fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) with rRNA-targeted nucleic acid probes specific for type 021N, Thiothrix and Leucothrix. Not all of the filaments morphologically identified as type 021N hybridized with the 021N probe. In one treatment plant the predominant filament hybridized with the probe for Thiothrix and in one treatment plant the predominant filament did not hybridize with any of these probes. In none of the plants did filaments hybridize with the probe for Leucothrix. A study of the in situ uptake of different organic substrates by the various filaments was also conducted using microautogradiography. The uptake of 6 different organic substrates under aerobic conditions was studied by providing C-14 or H-3 labeled substrates (acetate, glucose, ethanol, glycine, leucine and oleic acid) in incubations of a period of 3 hours. No filaments took up all the tested substrates, and type 021N from the various treatment plants varied in their uptake abilities. The study demonstrated that strain differences with regard to substrate utilization are likely to occur among bacteria within the same genera and designated types which are indistinguishable on the basis of morphological observations alone and by the molecular probes used in this study for identification. Whether there is a clear correlation between type of wastewater and the capability of taking up the various organic substrates for the filaments remains to be elucidated.

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