Turnover of the extracellular polymeric matrix of granules performing biological phosphate removal

Sergio Tomás-Martínez*, Erwin J. Zwolsman, Franck Merlier, Martin Pabst, Yuemei Lin, Mark C.M. van Loosdrecht, David G. Weissbrodt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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Polyphosphate accumulating organisms (PAOs) are responsible for enhanced biological phosphate removal (EBPR) from wastewater, where they grow embedded in a matrix of extracellular polymeric substances (EPS). EPSs comprise a mixture of biopolymers like polysaccharides or (glyco)proteins. Despite previous studies, little is known about the dynamics of EPS in mixed cultures, and their production by PAOs and potential consumption by flanking microbes. EPSs are biodegradable and have been suggested to be a substrate for other organisms in the community. Studying EPS turnover can help elucidate their biosynthesis and biodegradation cycles. We analyzed the turnover of proteins and polysaccharides in the EPS of an enrichment culture of PAOs relative to the turnover of internal proteins. An anaerobic-aerobic sequencing batch reactor (SBR) simulating EBPR conditions was operated to enrich for PAOs. After achieving a stable culture, carbon source was switched to uniformly 13C-labeled acetate. Samples were collected at the end of each aerobic phase. EPSs were extracted by alkaline treatment. 13C enrichment in proteins and sugars (after hydrolysis of polysaccharides) in the extracted EPS were measured by mass spectrometry. The average turnover rate of sugars and proteins (0.167 and 0.192 d−1 respectively) was higher than the expected value based on the solid removal rate (0.132 d−1), and no significant difference was observed between intracellular and extracellular proteins. This indicates that EPS from the PAO enriched community is not selectively degraded by flanking populations under stable EBPR process conditions. Instead, we observed general decay of biomass, which corresponds to a value of 0.048 d−1. Key Points: • Proteins showed a higher turnover rate than carbohydrates. • Turnover of EPS was similar to the turnover of intracellular proteins. • EPS is not preferentially consumed by flanking populations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1997-2009
JournalApplied Microbiology and Biotechnology
Issue number5-6
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • C incorporation study
  • Biofilm
  • Enhanced biological phosphate removal
  • Extracellular polymeric substances
  • Polyphosphate accumulating organisms
  • Protein and carbohydrate turnover


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