Identification of functionally relevant populations in enhanced biological phosphorus removal processes based on intracellular polymers profiles and insights into the metabolic diversity and heterogeneity

Environ Sci Technol. 2012 May 1;46(9):5010-7. doi: 10.1021/es300044h. Epub 2012 Apr 17.


This study proposed and demonstrated the application of a new Raman microscopy-based method for metabolic state-based identification and quantification of functionally relevant populations, namely polyphosphate accumulating organisms (PAOs) and glycogen accumulating organisms (GAOs), in enhanced biological phosphorus removal (EBPR) system via simultaneous detection of multiple intracellular polymers including polyphosphate (polyP), glycogen, and polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB). The unique Raman spectrum of different combinations of intracellular polymers within a cell at a given stage of the EBPR cycle allowed for its identification as PAO, GAO, or neither. The abundance of total PAOs and GAOs determined by Raman method were consistent with those obtained with polyP staining and fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH). Different combinations and quantities of intracellular polymer inclusions observed in single cells revealed the distribution of different sub-PAOs groups among the total PAO populations, which exhibit phenotypic and metabolic heterogeneity and diversity. These results also provided evidence for the hypothesis that different PAOs may employ different extents of combination of glycolysis and TCA cycle pathways for anaerobic reducing power and energy generation and it is possible that some PAOs may rely on TCA cycle solely without glycolysis. Sum of cellular level quantification of the internal polymers associated with different population groups showed differentiated and distributed trends of glycogen and PHB level between PAOs and GAOs, which could not be elucidated before with conventional bulk measurements of EBPR mixed cultures.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Glycogen / metabolism*
  • Microbiological Techniques*
  • Phosphorus / isolation & purification
  • Polymers / analysis*
  • Polyphosphates / metabolism*
  • Spectrum Analysis, Raman*
  • Water Pollution, Chemical / prevention & control


  • Polymers
  • Polyphosphates
  • Phosphorus
  • Glycogen