Population analysis in a denitrifying sand filter: Conventional and in situ identification of Paracoccus spp. in methanol-fed biofilms

Alexander Neef, Anita Zaglauer, Harald Meier, Rudolf Amann, Hilde Lemmer, Karl Heinz Schleifer

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The microbial community of a denitrifying sand filter in a municipal wastewater treatment plant was examined by conventional and molecular techniques to identify the bacteria actively involved in the removal of nitrate. In this system, denitrification is carried out as the last step of water treatment by biofilms growing on quartz grains with methanol as a supplemented carbon source. The biofilms are quite irregular, having a median thickness of 13 to 20 μm. Fatty acid analysis of 56 denitrifying isolates indicated the occurrence of Paracoccus spp. in the sand filter. 16S rRNA- targeted probes were designed for this genus and the species cluster Paracoccus denitrificans-Paracoccus versutus and tested for specificity by whole-cell hybridization. Stringency requirements for the probes were adjusted by use of a formamide concentration gradient to achieve complete discrimination of even highly similar target sequences. Whole-cell hybridization confirmed that members of the genus Paracoccus were abundant among the isolates. Twenty-seven of the 56 isolates hybridized with the genus-specific probes. In situ hybridization identified dense aggregates of paracocci in detached biofilms. Probes complementary to the type strains of P. denitrificans and P. versutus did not hybridize to cells in the biofilms, suggesting the presence of a new Paracoccus species in the sand filter. Analysis rising confocal laser scanning microscopy detected spherical aggregates of morphologically identical cells exhibiting a uniform fluorescence. Cell quantification was performed after thorough disruption of the biofilms and filtration onto polycarbonate filters. An average of 3.5% of total cell counts corresponded to a Paracoccus sp., whereas in a parallel sand filter with no supplemented methanol, and no measurable denitrification, only very few paracocci (0.07% of cells stained with 4',6-diamidino-2- phenylindole) could be detected. Hyphomicrobium spp. constituted approximately 2% of all cells in the denitrifying unit and could not be detected in the regular sand filter. This clear link between in situ abundance and denitrification suggests an active participation of paracocci and hyphomicrobia in the process. Possible selective advantages favoring the paracocci in this habitat are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4329-4339
Number of pages11
JournalApplied and Environmental Microbiology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1996


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