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The role of lipids in activated sludge floc formation

School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences, University of NSW, Sydney 2052, Australia

Special Issues: Leading Edge Technologies in Wastewater Treatment

Activated sludge is widely used to treat municipal and industrial wastewater globally and the formation of activated sludge flocculates (flocs) underpins the ability to separate sludge from treated water. Despite the importance of activated sludge flocs to human civilization there have been precious few attempts to rationally design fit for purpose flocs using a bottom-up approach based on a solid scientific foundation. Recently we have been developing experimental models for activated sludge floc formation based on the colonization and consumption of particulate organic matter (chitin and cellulose). In this study we lay the foundation for investigation of activated sludge floc formation based on biofilm formation around spheres of the lipid glycerol trioleate (GT) that form spontaneously when GT is introduced into activated sludge incubations. Sludge biomass was observed to associate tightly with the lipid spheres. An increase in extracellular lipase activity was associated with a decrease in size of the colonized lipid spheres over a 25 day incubation. Bacterial community composition shifted from predominantly Betaproteobacteria to Alphaproteobacteria in GT treated sludge. Four activated sludge bacteria were isolated from lipid spheres and two of them were shown to produce AHL like quorum sensing signal activity, suggesting quorum sensing may play a role in lipid spheres colonization and biodegradation in activated sludge. The development of this experimental model of activated sludge floc formation lays the foundation for rational production of flocs for wastewater treatment using lipids as floc nuclei and further development of the flocculate life-cycle concept.
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