Enrichment and Aggregation of Purple Non-sulfur Bacteria in a Mixed-Culture Sequencing-Batch Photobioreactor for Biological Nutrient Removal From Wastewater

Marta Cerruti, Berber Stevens, Sirous Ebrahimi, Abbas Alloul, Siegfried E. Vlaeminck, David G. Weissbrodt*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)
26 Downloads (Pure)


Mixed-culture biotechnologies are widely used to capture nutrients from wastewater. Purple non-sulfur bacteria (PNSB), a guild of anoxygenic photomixotrophic organisms, rise interest for their ability to directly assimilate nutrients in the biomass. One challenge targets the aggregation and accumulation of PNSB biomass to separate it from the treated water. Our aim was to enrich and produce a concentrated, fast-settling PNSB biomass with high nutrient removal capacity in a 1.5-L, stirred-tank, anaerobic sequencing-batch photobioreactor (SBR). PNSB were rapidly enriched after inoculation with activated sludge at 0.1 gVSS L–1 in a first batch of 24 h under continuous irradiance of infrared (IR) light (>700 nm) at 375 W m–2, with Rhodobacter reaching 54% of amplicon sequencing read counts. SBR operations with decreasing hydraulic retention times (48 to 16 h, i.e., 1–3 cycles d–1) and increasing volumetric organic loading rates (0.2–1.3 kg COD d–1 m–3) stimulated biomass aggregation, settling, and accumulation in the system, reaching as high as 3.8 g VSS L–1. The sludge retention time (SRT) increased freely from 2.5 to 11 days. Acetate, ammonium, and orthophosphate were removed up to 96% at a rate of 1.1 kg COD d–1 m–3, 77% at 113 g N d–1 m–3, and 73% at 15 g P d–1 m–3, respectively, with COD:N:P assimilation ratio of 100:6.7:0.9 m/m/m. SBR regime shifts sequentially selected for Rhodobacter (90%) under shorter SRT and non-limiting concentration of acetate during reaction phases, for Rhodopseudomonas (70%) under longer SRT and acetate limitation during reaction, and Blastochloris (10%) under higher biomass concentrations, underlying competition for substrate and photons in the PNSB guild. With SBR operations we produced a fast-settling biomass, highly (>90%) enriched in PNSB. A high nutrient removal was achieved by biomass assimilation, reaching the European nutrient discharge limits. We opened further insights on the microbial ecology of PNSB-based processes for water resource recovery.

Original languageEnglish
Article number557234
JournalFrontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • bioaggregation
  • biological wastewater treatment
  • environmental biotechnology
  • microbial ecology
  • mixed-culture biotechnology
  • purple phototrophic bacteria
  • resource recovery
  • sequencing batch reactor


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