Metabolic modelling of full-scale enhanced biological phosphorus removal sludge

Ana B. Lanham, Adrian Oehmen, Aaron M. Saunders, Gilda Carvalho, Per H. Nielsen, Maria A M Reis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Citations (SciVal)


This study investigates, for the first time, the application of metabolic models incorporating polyphosphate accumulating organisms (PAOs) and glycogen accumulating organisms (GAOs) towards describing the biochemical transformations of full-scale enhanced biological phosphorus removal (EBPR) activated sludge from wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs). For this purpose, it was required to modify previous metabolic models applied to lab-scale systems by incorporating the anaerobic utilisation of the TCA cycle and the aerobic maintenance processes based on sequential utilisation of polyhydroxyalkanoates, followed by glycogen and polyphosphate. The abundance of the PAO and GAO populations quantified by fluorescence in situ hybridisation served as the initial conditions of each biomass fraction, whereby the models were able to describe accurately the experimental data. The kinetic rates were found to change among the four different WWTPs studied or even in the same plant during different seasons, either suggesting the presence of additional PAO or GAO organisms, or varying microbial activities for the same organisms. Nevertheless, these variations in kinetic rates were largely found to be proportional to the difference in acetate uptake rate, suggesting a viable means of calibrating the metabolic model. The application of the metabolic model to full-scale sludge also revealed that different Accumulibacter clades likely possess different acetate uptake mechanisms, as a correlation was observed between the energetic requirement for acetate transport across the cell membrane with the diversity of Accumulibacter present. Using the model as a predictive tool, it was shown that lower acetate concentrations in the feed as well as longer aerobic retention times favour the dominance of the TCA metabolism over glycolysis, which could explain why the anaerobic TCA pathway seems to be more relevant in full-scale WWTPs than in lab-scale systems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)283-295
Number of pages13
JournalWater Research
Early online date3 Sept 2014
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2014


  • Anaerobic TCA cycle
  • Glycogen accumulating organisms (GAOs)
  • Glycolysis
  • Maintenance processes
  • Metabolic modelling
  • Polyphosphate accumulating organisms (PAOs)


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