Current gel entrapment technology has certain advantages for the enrichment of anammox sludge. In this study, the optimal preparation conditions and cultivation equipment of Ca-alginate cell beads for the culturing anammox sludge were proposed. The preparation parameters of the Ca-alginate cell beads were as follows: 3% sodium alginate, 4% CaCl2, VSA:Vcell = 1:1, a drop height of 9 cm, stirring speed of 300 rpm, and cross-linking time of 24 h. The prepared cell beads were regular spheres with a uniform size and hard texture. Throughout the 9 days of cultivation, the number of anammox bacteria in the Ca-alginate cell beads was 4.3 times that of the initial sludge, and the color of the cell beads changed from yellowish-brown to reddish-brown. Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) analysis showed that the SA gel beads had a good microporous structure. The fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) results illustrated that the bacteria were mostly dispersed inside the Ca-alginate cell beads. Additionally, the qPCR results implied that only a relatively small amount of anammox biomass (2.74×106 copies/gel-bead) was required to quickly start the anammox process. The anammox bacteria in the Ca-alginate cell beads grew with a fast growth rate in a short period and exhibited high activity due to diffusion limitations. In addition, the anammox bacteria cultivated in the Ca-alginate cell beads could adapt to the increase in substrate concentration in a short period. The optimal incubation time of this gel entrapment method for anammox sludge was no more than 17 days under the experimental conditions of this work. Therefore, this simple and practicable gel entrapment method may serve as a suitable pre-culture means for the rapid enrichment of anammox bacteria.

  • The optimal preparation conditions and cultivation equipment for Ca-alginate cell beads were proposed.

  • Anammox bacteria cultivated in Ca-alginate cell beads could adapt to substrate concentration disturbance in a short time.

  • This gel entrapment method only required few anammox cells to start the anammox process.

  • The optimum incubation time of this gel entrapment method for anammox bacteria was no more than 17 days.

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