DNRA and Denitrification Coexist over a Broad Range of Acetate/N-NO3− Ratios, in a Chemostat Enrichment Culture

Eveline van den Berg, Marissa Boleij, Gijs Kuenen, Robbert Kleerebezem, Mark van Loosdrecht

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Denitrification and dissimilatory nitrate reduction to ammonium (DNRA) compete for nitrate in natural and engineered environments. A known important factor in this microbial competition is the ratio of available electron donor and elector acceptor, here expressed as Ac/N ratio (acetate/nitrate-nitrogen). We studied the impact of the Ac/N ratio on the nitrate reduction pathways in chemostat enrichment cultures, grown on acetate mineral medium. Stepwise, conditions were changed from nitrate limitation to nitrate excess in the system by applying a variable Ac/N ratio in the feed. We observed a clear correlation between Ac/N ratio and DNRA activity and the DNRA population in our reactor. The DNRA bacteria dominated under nitrate limiting conditions in the reactor and were outcompeted by denitrifiers under limitation of acetate. Interestingly, in a broad range of Ac/N ratios a dual limitation of acetate and nitrate occurred with co-occurrence of DNRA bacteria and denitrifiers. To explain these observations, the system was described using a kinetic model. The model illustrates that the Ac/N effect and concomitant broad dual limitation range related to the difference in stoichiometry between both processes, as well as the differences in electron donor and acceptor affinities. Population analysis showed that the presumed DRNA-performing bacteria were the same under nitrate limitation and under dual limiting conditions, whereas the presumed denitrifying population changed under single and dual limitation conditions.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1842
Number of pages12
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Publication statusPublished - 24 Nov 2016


  • chemostat
  • denitrification
  • dissimilatory nitrate reduction
  • DNRA
  • Ac/N-ratio
  • OA-Fund TU Delft


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