Previously, we found that the newly isolated Clostridium sp. strain JC3 became the dominant cellulose-degrading bacterium in thermophilic methanogenic sludge. In the present study, the behavior of strain JC3 in the thermophilic anaerobic digestion process was investigated quantitatively by molecular biological techniques. A cellulose-degrading experiment was conducted at 55 °C with a 9.5 L of anaerobic baffled reactor having three compartments (Nos. 1, 2, 3). Over 80% of the COD input was converted into methane when 2.5 kgCOD m−3 d−1 was loaded for an HRT of 27 days. A FISH probe specific for strain JC3 was applied to sludge samples harvested from the baffled reactor. Consequently, the ratio of JC3 cells to DAPI-stained cells increased from below 0.5% (undetectable) to 9.4% (compartment 1), 13.1% (compartment 2) and 21.6% (compartment 3) at day 84 (2.5 kgCOD m−3 d−1). The strain JC3 cell numbers determined by FISH correlated closely with the cellulose-degrading methanogenic activities of retained sludge. A specific primer set targeting the cellulase gene (cellobiohydrolaseA: cbhA) of strain JC3 was designed and applied to digested sludge for treating solid waste such as coffee grounds, wastepaper, garbage, cellulose and so on. The strain JC3 cell numbers determined by quantitative PCR correlated closely with the cellulose-sludge loading of the thermophilic digester. Strain JC3 is thus important in the anaerobic hydrolysis of cellulose in thermophilic anaerobic digestion processes.

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