Metaproteomic analysis, comprising protein separation and identification, was applied to study extracellular proteins in activated sludges and to track their fate in sludge digestion under both anaerobic and aerobic conditions. The complex sludge proteins were first separated by sodium dodecyl sulphate polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (SDS-PAGE) and further analysed by liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) to search their identification. Base extraction and cation exchange resin (CER) method were used to extract EPS from sludges at 0, 12 and 30 days of batch digestion. Several important observations were made during this study. Firstly, protein bands were well separated by extraction/SDS-PAGE protocol used in this study. Secondly, numerous protein bands remained after digestion, indicating that these proteins are not easily degradable in sludge digestion. Thirdly, protein bands detected following anaerobic and aerobic digestion differed, suggesting that proteins degraded in two different digestion environments are not the same. Finally, protein bands that emerged distinctively following anaerobic digestion was found to be subunits of methyl-coenzyme M reductase, the enzyme involved in methane generation, in Methanosarcina barkeri. These results demonstrated that metaproteomic investigation on activated sludge EPS is useful for studying floc formation in activated sludges and their degradation in various digestion environments.

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