Abstract: Using microbial enrichment cultures for the production of waste-derived polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) is a promising technology to recover secondary resources. Volatile fatty acids (VFAs) form the preferred substrate for PHA production. Isobutyrate is a VFA appearing in multiple waste valorization routes, such as anaerobic fermentation, chain elongation, and microbial electrosynthesis, but has never been assessed individually on its PHA production potential. This research investigates isobutyrate as sole carbon source for a microbial enrichment culture in comparison to its structural isomer butyrate. The results reveal that the enrichment of isobutyrate has a very distinct character regarding microbial community development, PHA productivity, and even PHA composition. Although butyrate is a superior substrate in almost every aspect, this research shows that isobutyrate-rich waste streams have a noteworthy PHA-producing potential. The main finding is that the dominant microorganism, a Comamonas sp., is linked to the production of a unique PHA family member, poly(3-hydroxyisobutyrate) (PHiB), up to 37% of the cell dry weight. This is the first scientific report identifying microbial PHiB production, demonstrating that mixed microbial communities can be a powerful tool for discovery of new metabolic pathways and new types of polymers. Key points: • PHiB production is a successful storage strategy in an isobutyrate-fed SBR • Isomers isobutyrate and butyrate reveal a very distinct PHA production behavior • Enrichments can be a tool for discovery of new metabolic pathways and polymers Graphical abstract: [Figure not available: see fulltext.].
- Microbial enrichment cultures