Competition and coexistence of sulfate-reducing and methanogenic populations in anaerobic biofilms

Lutgarde Raskin, Bruce E. Rittmann, David A. Stahl

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205 Scopus citations


The microbial population structure and function of natural anaerobic communities maintained in laboratory fixed-bed biofilm reactors were tracked before and after a major perturbation, which involved the addition of sulfate to the influent of a reactor that had previously been fed only glucose (methanogenic), while sulfate was withheld from a reactor that had been fed both glucose and sulfate (sulfidogenic). The population structure, determined by using phylogenetically based oligonucleotide probes for methanogens and sulfate-reducing bacteria, was linked to the functional performance of the biofilm reactors. Before the perturbation, the methanogenic reactor contained up to 25% methanogens as well as 15% sulfate-reducing bacteria, even though sulfate was not present in the influent of this reactor. Methanobacteriales and Desulfovibrio spp. were the most abundant methanogens and sulfate- reducing bacteria, respectively. The presence of sulfate-reducing bacteria (primarily Desulfovibrio spp. and Desulfobacterium spp.) in the absence of sulfate may be explained by their ability to function as proton-reducing acetogens and/or fermenters. Sulfate reduction began immediately following the addition of sulfate consistent with the presence of significant levels of sulfate-reducing bacteria in the methanogenic reactor, and levels of sulfate- reducing bacteria increased to a new steady-state level of 30 to 40%; coincidentally, effluent acetate concentrations decreased. Notably, some sulfate-reducing bacteria (Desulfococcus/Desulfosarcina/Desulfobotulus group) were more competitive without sulfate. Methane production decreased immediately following the addition of sulfate; this was later followed by a decrease in the relative concentration of methanogens, which reached a new steady-state level of approximately 8%. The changeover to sulfate-free medium in the sulfidogenic reactor did not cause a rapid shift to methanogenesis. Methane production and a substantial increase in the levels of methanogens were observed only after approximately 50 days following the perturbation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3847-3857
Number of pages11
JournalApplied and environmental microbiology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1996
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Food Science
  • Ecology
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology


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