This present study aimed to characterize the bacterial community in a well-established nitrifying reactor by high-throughput sequencing of 16S rRNA amplicons. The laboratory-scale continuous stirred tank reactor has been supplied with ammonium (NH4+) as sole energy source for over 5 years, while no organic carbon has been added, assembling thus a unique planktonic community with a mean NH4+ removal rate of 86 ± 1.4 mg NH4+-N/(L d). Results showed a nitrifying community composed of bacteria belonging to Nitrosomonas (relative abundance 11.0%) as the sole ammonia oxidizers (AOB) and Nitrobacter (9.3%) as the sole nitrite oxidizers (NOB). The Alphaproteobacteria (42.3% including Nitrobacter) were the most abundant class within the Proteobacteria (62.8%) followed by the Gammaproteobacteria (9.4%). However, the Betaproteobacteria (excluding AOB) contributed only 0.08%, confirming that Alpha- and Gammaproteobacteria thrived in low-organic-load environments while heterotrophic Betaproteobacteria are not well adapted to these conditions. Bacteroidetes, known to metabolize extracellular polymeric substances produced by nitrifying bacteria and secondary metabolites of the decayed biomass, was the second most abundant phylum (30.8%). It was found that Nitrosomonas and Nitrobacter sustained a broad population of heterotrophs in the reactor dominated by Alpha- and Gammaproteobacteria and Bacteroidetes, in a 1:4 ratio of total nitrifiers to all heterotrophs.

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