Methods of assessing microbial activity and inhibition under anaerobic conditions: a literature review

Abstract

This work reviews the existing methodologies for assessing microbial activity and inhibition under anaerobic conditions. The anaerobic digestion process consists of several metabolic steps–the Anaerobic Digestion Model No. 1 (ADM1) has attempted to describe these steps in the form of a mathematical model with the intention of providing a reference base for all further efforts in the modelling of anaerobic processes. The existence of a reference point for modelling has highlighted the fact that there is a lack of coherence between the many different methodologies for experimentally assessing anaerobic activity and inhibition.

A working group of the International Water Association was recently founded to harmonise the existing methodologies with the ultimate intention of developing a unified reference procedure– a primary objective of the group will be the establishment of a standard terminology in the field of anaerobic digestion, activity and inhibition assessment. Secondly, it will compare the existing methodologies and develop standard protocols for assessing the kinetic parameters (e.g. maximum uptake rate, half-saturation constant) of anaerobic processes that may be entered directly into ADM1 and its successors.

This paper revises and enlarges a contribution presented by the authors at the workshop “Harmonisation of anaerobic biodegradation, activity and inhibition assays” (Ligthart & Nieman 2002, Proc. workshop held in Orta (Italy) June 7–8, 2002) and aims to promote a clear understanding of the currently established methodology.

Numerous methods have been developed over the past 30 years, since Van den Berg et al. (1974, Biotechnol Bioeng 16(11)– 1459–1469) measured methanogenic activity, by using a manometric device equipped with a photoelectric sensor to quantify the gas production. Methanogenesis is often the rate limiting step of the entire process and since the quantification of gas flowrate is relatively easy to perform, most of the methods reported in literature monitor the production of biogas. These methods can be termed volumetric or manometric methods, as the volume of biogas produced or the pressure increase due to gas production inside a close vessel are assessed, respectively. However, this same concept can be employed to assess activity or inhibition of individual metabolic steps preceding the methanogenic one, providing that they are rate limiting for the whole process. The reliability of activity assessment through gas measurement has been proven to be strongly dependent on the equilibrium between liquid and gas phase in a closed vessel. This can be influenced by many factors, e.g. the amount and characteristics of the test substrate; the concentration of the biomass; the gas-to-liquid ratio– all these aspects will need to be addressed in the standard procedure. Other direct or indirect methods, targeting physico-chemical or microbiological parameter exist and have been investigated by many authors. Besides the interest for research purposes, the definition of reference methods to assess activity and inhibition can be of great interest for engineers, both phy. Specific reference procedures might be needed for particular applications, e.g. the (kinetic) study of rate limiting microbial steps and might require ad-hoc methodologies to be devised. A microbiological technique such as FISH, coupled with microsensors have been reported to have a great potential in the near future.

Keywords

activity anaerobic inhibition methods 

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© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.DIIAR, Politecnico di MilanoMilanoItaly
  2. 2.Pollution Research GroupUniversity of KwaZulu NatalDurbanSouth Africa

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