Background: Microalgae are a promising biomass feedstock for biofuels production. The use of wastewater effluent as a nutrient medium would improve the economics of microalgal biofuels production. Bacterial communities in aquatic environments may either stimulate or inhibit microalgal growth. Microalgal productivity could be enhanced if the positive effects of indigenous bacteria could be exploited. However, much is unknown about the effects of indigenous bacteria on microalgal growth and the characteristics of bacterial communities associated with microalgae in microalgae-effluent culture. To assess the effects of the indigenous bacteria in wastewater effluent on microalgal growth, three microalgae, Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, Chlorella vulgaris, and Euglena gracilis, were cultured in two municipal wastewater effluents and one swine wastewater effluent with and without indigenous bacteria for 7 days.
Results: All microalgae grew better in all effluents with indigenous bacteria than without bacteria. Biomass production of C. reinhardtii, C. vulgaris, and E. gracilis increased > 1.5, 1.8-2.8, and > 2.1-fold, respectively, compared to the axenic cultures of each microalga. The in situ indigenous bacterial communities in the effluents therefore promoted the growth of the three microalgae during 7-day cultures. Furthermore, the total numbers of bacterial 16S rRNA genes in the 7-day microalgae-effluent cultures were 109‒793 times the initial numbers. These results suggest that the three microalgae produced and supplied organic carbon that supported bacterial growth in the effluent. At the phylum and class levels, Proteobacteria (Alphaproteobacteria and Betaproteobacteria) and Bacteroidetes (Sphingobacteriia and Saprospirae) were selectively enriched in all microalgae-effluent cultures. The enriched core bacterial families and genera were functions of the microalgal species and effluents. These results suggest that certain members of the bacterial community promote the growth of their "host" microalgal species.
Conclusion: To enhance their own growth, microalgae may be able to selectively stimulate specific bacterial groups from among the in situ indigenous bacterial community found in wastewater effluent (i.e., microalgae growth-promoting bacteria: MGPB). The MGPB from effluent cultures could be used as "probiotics" to enhance microalgal growth in effluent culture. Wastewater effluent may therefore be a valuable resource, not only of nutrients, but also of MGPB to enable more efficient microalgal biomass production.
Keywords: Enhanced biomass production; Microalgae; Microalgae growth-promoting bacteria; Wastewater effluent.