Probing activated sludge with oligonucleotides specific for proteobacteria: Inadequacy of culture-dependent methods for describing microbial community structure

M. Wagner, R. Amann, H. Lemmer, K. H. Schleifer

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Abstract

Bacterial community structures in activated sludge samples from aeration tanks of a two-stage system with a high-load first stage and a low-load second stage were analyzed with oligonucleotide probes. The probes were complementary to conserved regions of the rRNA of the alpha, beta, and gamma subclasses of proteobacteria and of all bacteria. Group-specific cell counts were determined by in situ hybridization with fluorescent probe derivatives. Contributions of the proteobacterial subclasses to total bacterial rRNA were quantified by dot blot hybridization with digoxigenin-labeled oligonucleotides. The activated sludge samples were dominated by proteobacteria from the alpha, beta, or gamma subclass. These proteobacteria account for about 80% of all active bacteria found in the activated sludge. For both samples the community structures determined with molecular techniques were compared with the composition of the heterotrophic saprophyte flora isolated on nutrient-rich medium. Probes were used to rapidly classify the isolates and to directly monitor population shifts in nutrient-amended, activated sludge samples. The rich medium favored growth of gamma-subclass proteobacteria (e.g., enterobacteria) and selected against beta-subclass proteobacteria. The culture-dependent community structure analysis of activated sludge produced partial and heavily biased results. A more realistic view will be obtained by using in situ techniques.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1520-1525
Number of pages6
JournalApplied and Environmental Microbiology
Volume59
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - 1993

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