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, 22 (5), 421-37

The Anaerobic Oxidation of Ammonium


The Anaerobic Oxidation of Ammonium

M S Jetten et al. FEMS Microbiol Rev.


From recent research it has become clear that at least two different possibilities for anaerobic ammonium oxidation exist in nature. 'Aerobic' ammonium oxidizers like Nitrosomonas eutropha were observed to reduce nitrite or nitrogen dioxide with hydroxylamine or ammonium as electron donor under anoxic conditions. The maximum rate for anaerobic ammonium oxidation was about 2 nmol NH4+ min-1 (mg protein)-1 using nitrogen dioxide as electron acceptor. This reaction, which may involve NO as an intermediate, is thought to generate energy sufficient for survival under anoxic conditions, but not for growth. A novel obligately anaerobic ammonium oxidation (Anammox) process was recently discovered in a denitrifying pilot plant reactor. From this system, a highly enriched microbial community with one dominating peculiar autotrophic organism was obtained. With nitrite as electron acceptor a maximum specific oxidation rate of 55 nmol NH4+ min-1 (mg protein)-1 was determined. Although this reaction is 25-fold faster than in Nitrosomonas, it allowed growth at a rate of only 0.003 h-1 (doubling time 11 days). 15N labeling studies showed that hydroxylamine and hydrazine were important intermediates in this new process. A novel type of hydroxylamine oxidoreductase containing an unusual P468 cytochrome has been purified from the Anammox culture. Microsensor studies have shown that at the oxic/anoxic interface of many ecosystems nitrite and ammonia occur in the absence of oxygen. In addition, the number of reports on unaccounted high nitrogen losses in wastewater treatment is gradually increasing, indicating that anaerobic ammonium oxidation may be more widespread than previously assumed. The recently developed nitrification systems in which oxidation of nitrite to nitrate is prevented form an ideal partner for the Anammox process. The combination of these partial nitrification and Anammox processes remains a challenge for future application in the removal of ammonium from wastewater with high ammonium concentrations.

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