As a first step in understanding nonlinear dynamics in activated sludge systems, two laboratory-scale sequencing batch reactors were operated under identical conditions and changes in their microbial communities were followed through microscopic examination, macroscopic observation, and denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) of PCR-amplified 16S rRNA gene segments from the prokaryotic community. Two experiments were performed. The first used activated sludge from a local wastewater treatment plant to start the replicate reactors. The second used the biomass from the first experiment as a source by intermixing the two and equally redistributing the biomass into the two replicate reactors. For both experiments, the two reactors behaved fairly similarly and had similar microbial communities for a period of 60 days following start-up. Beyond that, the microbial communities in the two reactors in the first experiment diverged in composition, while those in the second experiment remained fairly similar. This suggests that the degree of change occurring in replicate reactors depends upon the severity of perturbation to which they are exposed. The DGGE data showed that the bacterial communities in both experiments were highly dynamic, even though the system performance of the replicate reactors were very similar, suggesting that dynamics within the prokaryotic community is not necessarily reflected in system performance. Moreover, a significant finding from this study is that replicate activated sludge systems are not identical, although they can be very similar if started appropriately.

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