Evidence for bacteriophage activity causing community and performance changes in a phosphorus-removal activated sludge

FEMS Microbiol Ecol. 2010 Dec;74(3):631-42. doi: 10.1111/j.1574-6941.2010.00967.x. Epub 2010 Sep 30.


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.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacteriophages / growth & development*
  • Betaproteobacteria / metabolism
  • Betaproteobacteria / virology*
  • Bioreactors
  • In Situ Hybridization, Fluorescence
  • Microscopy, Electron, Transmission
  • Phosphorus / metabolism*
  • Proteomics
  • Sewage / microbiology*
  • Sewage / virology*
  • Waste Disposal, Fluid


  • Sewage
  • Phosphorus