Granule formation mechanisms within an aerobic wastewater system for phosphorus removal

Appl Environ Microbiol. 2010 Nov;76(22):7588-97. doi: 10.1128/AEM.00864-10. Epub 2010 Sep 17.


Granular sludge is a novel alternative for the treatment of wastewater and offers numerous operational and economic advantages over conventional floccular-sludge systems. The majority of research on granular sludge has focused on optimization of engineering aspects relating to reactor operation with little emphasis on the fundamental microbiology. In this study, we hypothesize two novel mechanisms for granule formation as observed in three laboratory scale sequencing batch reactors operating for biological phosphorus removal and treating two different types of wastewater. During the initial stages of granulation, two distinct granule types (white and yellow) were distinguished within the mixed microbial population. White granules appeared as compact, smooth, dense aggregates dominated by 97.5% "Candidatus Accumulibacter phosphatis," and yellow granules appeared as loose, rough, irregular aggregates with a mixed microbial population of 12.3% "Candidatus Accumulibacter phosphatis" and 57.9% "Candidatus Competibacter phosphatis," among other bacteria. Microscopy showed white granules as homogeneous microbial aggregates and yellow granules as segregated, microcolony-like aggregates, with phylogenetic analysis suggesting that the granule types are likely not a result of strain-associated differences. The microbial community composition and arrangement suggest different formation mechanisms occur for each granule type. White granules are hypothesized to form by outgrowth from a single microcolony into a granule dominated by one bacterial type, while yellow granules are hypothesized to form via multiple microcolony aggregation into a microcolony-segregated granule with a mixed microbial population. Further understanding and application of these mechanisms and the associated microbial ecology may provide conceptual information benefiting start-up procedures for full-scale granular-sludge reactors.

MeSH terms

  • Aerobiosis
  • Bacteria / classification
  • Bacteria / cytology
  • Bacteria / growth & development*
  • Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Bacterial Adhesion
  • Bioreactors / microbiology
  • Cluster Analysis
  • DNA, Bacterial / chemistry
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • DNA, Ribosomal / chemistry
  • DNA, Ribosomal / genetics
  • In Situ Hybridization, Fluorescence
  • Microscopy
  • Phosphorus / metabolism*
  • Phylogeny
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Sewage / microbiology*


  • DNA, Bacterial
  • DNA, Ribosomal
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S
  • Sewage
  • Phosphorus