Metformin (MET) is a pharmaceutical product mostly biotransformed in the environment to a transformation product, guanylurea (GUA). In ready biodegradability tests (RBTs), however, contrasting results have been observed for metformin. The objective of this study was to measure the biodegradation of MET and GUA in RBTs, using activated sludge from the local wastewater treatment plant, either directly or after pre-exposure to MET, in a chemostat. The activated sludge community was cultivated in chemostats, in presence or absence of MET, for a period of nine months, and was used in RBT after one, three and nine months. The results of this study showed that the original activated sludge was able to completely remove MET (15 mg/l) and the newly produced GUA (50% of C0MET) under the test conditions. Inoculation of the chemostat led to a rapid shift in the community composition and abundance. The community exposed to 1.5 mg/l of MET was still able to completely consume MET in the RBTs after one-month exposure, but three- and nine-months exposure resulted in reduced removal of MET in the RBTs. The ability of the activated sludge community to degrade MET and GUA is the result of environmental exposure to these chemicals as well as of conditions that could not be reproduced in the laboratory system. A MET-degrading strain belonging to the genus Aminobacter has been isolated from the chemostat community. This strain was able to completely consume 15 mg/l of MET within three days in the test. However, community analysis revealed that the fluctuation in relative abundance of this genus (<1%) could not be correlated to the fluctuation in biodegradation capacity of the chemostat community.
Keywords: Biodegradation; Chemostat systems; Guanylurea; Metformin; Microbial adaptation; Microbial community.
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