The present study demonstrates the application of in situ microscopy for monitoring the growth of filamentous bacteria which can induce disturbances in an industrial activated sludge process. An in situ microscope (ISM) is immersed directly into samples of activated sludge with Microthrix parvicella as dominating species. Without needing further preparatory steps, the automatic evaluation of the ISM-images generates two signals: the number of individual filaments per image (ISM–filament counting) and the total extended filament length (TEFL) per image (ISM–online TEFL). In this first version of the image-processing algorithm, closely spaced crossing filament-segments or filaments within bulk material are not detected. The signals show highly linear correlation both with the standard filament index and the TEFL. Correlations were further substantiated by comparison with real-time polymerase chain reaction (real-time PCR) measurements of M. parvicella and of the diluted sludge volume index. In this case study, in situ microscopy proved to be a suitable tool for straightforward online-monitoring of filamentous bacteria in activated sludge systems. With future adaptation of the system to different filament morphologies, including cross-linking filaments, bundles, and attached growth, the system will be applicable to other wastewater treatment plants.

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