The surface hydrophobicity of different types of bacteria in activated sludge were investigated under in situ conditions by following the adhesion of fluorescent microspheres with defined surface properties to bacterial surfaces (the MAC-method). This technique was combined with identification of the bacteria with fluorescence in situ hybridization with rRNA-targeted oligonucleotides (FISH) and could thus be used for characterization of surface properties of probe-defined bacteria directly in a complex system without prior enrichment or isolation. This MAC-FISH technique could be used for single bacteria as well as filamentous bacteria. In the investigated activated sludge from an industrial wastewater treatment plant, two types of filamentous bacteria dominated. One morphotype consistently attracted only very few hydrophobic microspheres, indicating that the thin sheath of exopolymers around the cells had a hydrophilic surface. Use of a hierarchical set of gene probes revealed that these filaments were sulphide oxidising Thiothrix spp. The other predominating filamentous morphotype had a thick, very hydrophobic exopolymeric sheath. This filamentous bacterium was found to belong to the alpha-Proteobacteria. The relevance of the significant differences in surface hydrophobicity for the two morphotypes in respect to substrate uptake and floc formation is discussed.

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