Bacteria are known to play important roles in biogeochemical cycles and biotechnology processes, but little is known about the influence of bacteriophage on these processes. A major impediment to the study of host-bacteriophage interactions is that the bacteria and their bacteriophage are often not available in a pure culture. In this study, we detected an unexpected decline in the phosphorus-removal performance of a granular laboratory-scale wastewater treatment reactor. Investigations by FISH, transmission electron microscopy and proteomics led us to hypothesize that a bacteriophage infection of the uncultured Candidatus 'Accumulibacter phosphatis' was responsible for the decline in performance. Further experiments demonstrated that the addition of a putative bacteriophage-rich supernatant, obtained from the previous failed reactor to phosphorus-removal reactors, caused a decrease in the abundance of Accumulibacter in both granular and floccular activated sludges. This coincided with increases in bacteriophage-like particles and declining phosphorus-removal performance. The granular sludge did not recover after the attack, but the floccular sludge regained Accumulibacter numbers and phosphorus-removal performance. These findings suggest that bacteriophage may play a significant role in determining the structure and function of bacterial communities in activated sludges.
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