A review concerning the definition, extraction, characterization, production and functions of extracellular polymeric substances (EPS) of microbial aggregates in biological wastewater treatment reactors is given in this paper. EPS are a complex high-molecular-weight mixture of polymers excreted by microorganisms, produced from cell lysis and adsorbed organic matter from wastewater. They are a major component in microbial aggregates for keeping them together in a three-dimensional matrix. Their characteristics (e.g., adsorption abilities, biodegradability and hydrophilicity/hydrophobicity) and the contents of the main components (e.g., carbohydrates, proteins, humic substances and nucleic acids) in EPS are found to crucially affect the properties of microbial aggregates, such as mass transfer, surface characteristics, adsorption ability, stability, the formation of microbial aggregates etc. However, as EPS are very complex, the knowledge regarding EPS is far from complete and much work is still required to fully understand their precise roles in the biological treatment process.
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