In situ analysis of nitrifying biofilms as determined by in situ hybridization and the use of microelectrodes

Appl Environ Microbiol. 1999 Jul;65(7):3182-91.


We investigated the in situ spatial organization of ammonia-oxidizing and nitrite-oxidizing bacteria in domestic wastewater biofilms and autotrophic nitrifying biofilms by using microsensors and fluorescent in situ hybridization (FISH) performed with 16S rRNA-targeted oligonucleotide probes. The combination of these techniques made it possible to relate in situ microbial activity directly to the occurrence of nitrifying bacterial populations. In situ hybridization revealed that bacteria belonging to the genus Nitrosomonas were the numerically dominant ammonia-oxidizing bacteria in both types of biofilms. Bacteria belonging to the genus Nitrobacter were not detected; instead, Nitrospira-like bacteria were the main nitrite-oxidizing bacteria in both types of biofilms. Nitrospira-like cells formed irregularly shaped aggregates consisting of small microcolonies, which clustered around the clusters of ammonia oxidizers. Whereas most of the ammonia-oxidizing bacteria were present throughout the biofilms, the nitrite-oxidizing bacteria were restricted to the active nitrite-oxidizing zones, which were in the inner parts of the biofilms. Microelectrode measurements showed that the active ammonia-oxidizing zone was located in the outer part of a biofilm, whereas the active nitrite-oxidizing zone was located just below the ammonia-oxidizing zone and overlapped the location of nitrite-oxidizing bacteria, as determined by FISH.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Ammonia / metabolism
  • Biofilms*
  • Bioreactors
  • Gram-Negative Chemolithotrophic Bacteria / classification
  • Gram-Negative Chemolithotrophic Bacteria / genetics*
  • Gram-Negative Chemolithotrophic Bacteria / metabolism
  • In Situ Hybridization, Fluorescence*
  • Industrial Waste
  • Microelectrodes
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Nitrites / metabolism*
  • Oligonucleotide Probes
  • RNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Water Microbiology


  • Industrial Waste
  • Nitrites
  • Oligonucleotide Probes
  • RNA, Bacterial
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S
  • Ammonia