Polyphosphate kinase genes from full-scale activated sludge plants
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The performance of enhanced biological phosphorus removal (EBPR) wastewater treatment processes depends on the presence of bacteria that accumulate large quantities of polyphosphate. One such group of bacteria has been identified and named Candidatus Accumulibacter phosphatis. Accumulibacter-like bacteria are abundant in many EBPR plants, but not much is known about their community or population ecology. In this study, we used the polyphosphate kinase gene (ppk1) as a high-resolution genetic marker to study population structure in activated sludge. Ppk1 genes were amplified from samples collected from full-scale wastewater treatment plants of different configurations. Clone libraries were constructed using primers targeting highly conserved regions of ppk1, to retrieve these genes from activated sludge plants that did, and did not, perform EBPR. Comparative sequence analysis revealed that ppk1 fragments were retrieved from organisms affiliated with the Accumulibacter cluster from EBPR plants but not from a plant that did not perform EBPR. A new set of more specific primers was designed and validated to amplify a 1,100 bp ppk1 fragment from Accumulibacter-like bacteria. Our results suggest that the Accumulibacter cluster has finer-scale architecture than previously revealed by 16S ribosomal RNA-based analyses.