Active mesophilic and thermophilic phenol-degrading methanogenic consortia were obtained after an 18-month acclimation and enriching process in the serum bottles, and characterized using the rRNA-based molecular approach. As revealed by cloning, fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) and terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism (T-RFLP), these two enrichments differed greatly in the community structures. The results for the first time suggest that group TA in the Deltaproteobacteria (88.0% of EUBmix FISH-detectable bacterial cell area) and Pelotomaculum spp. in the Desulfotomaculum family (81.2%) were the predominant fermentative bacteria under mesophilic (37 °C) and thermophilic (55 °C) conditions, respectively. These populations closely associated with mesophilic and thermophilic members of Methanosaetaceae, Methanobacteriaceae and Methanomicrobiales to mineralize phenol as the sole carbon substrate to carbon dioxide and methane. Moreover, these two enrichments could mineralize terephthalate and benzoate. During benzoate degradation in the mesophilic enrichment, a shift in the predominant bacterial population from Deltaproteobacteria group TA to Syntrophus spp. was observed, suggesting Syntrophus-related spp. could have a higher substrate affinity for benzoate. FISH further revealed that member of the Deltaproteobacteria group TA represented more than 68.3% of EUBmix FISH-detectable bacterial cell area in a full-scale mesophilic bioreactor treating phenol-containing wastewaters.
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