In this study, we established a rapid multiplex method to detect the relative abundances of amplified 16S rRNA genes from known cultivatable methanogens at hierarchical specificities in anaerobic digestion systems treating industrial wastewater and sewage sludge. The method was based on the hierarchical oligonucleotide primer extension (HOPE) technique and combined with a set of 27 primers designed to target the total archaeal populations and methanogens from 22 genera within 4 taxonomic orders. After optimization for their specificities and detection sensitivity under the conditions of multiple single-nucleotide primer extension reactions, the HOPE approach was applied to analyze the methanogens in 19 consortium samples from 7 anaerobic treatment systems (i.e., 513 reactions). Among the samples, the methanogen populations detected with order-level primers accounted for >77.2% of the PCR-amplified 16S rRNA genes detected using an Archaea-specific primer. The archaeal communities typically consisted of 2 to 7 known methanogen genera within the Methanobacteriales, Methanomicrobiales, and Methanosarcinales and displayed population dynamic and spatial distributions in anaerobic reactor operations. Principal component analysis of the HOPE data further showed that the methanogen communities could be clustered into 3 distinctive groups, in accordance with the distribution of the Methanosaeta, Methanolinea, and Methanomethylovorans, respectively. This finding suggested that in addition to acetotrophic and hydrogenotrophic methanogens, the methylotrophic methanogens might play a key role in the anaerobic treatment of industrial wastewater. Overall, the results demonstrated that the HOPE approach is a specific, rapid, and multiplexing platform to determine the relative abundances of targeted methanogens in PCR-amplified 16S rRNA gene products.
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