A thermophilic upflow anaerobic sludge blanket (UASB) reactor degrading acetate was started by applying published methods (W. M. Wiegant and A. W. A. de Man, Biotechnol. Bioeng. 28:718-77, 1986) for production of granules dominated by Methanothrix spp. The reactor was inoculated with thermophilic digested sludge. No granules were observed during the first 7 months of start-up of the UASB reactor. However, after the concentrations of potassium, phosphate, ammonium, and magnesium in the medium were gradually increased, granules developed, indicating that there was a critical concentration of one or more of the ions required for production of granules from the starting material. After several years of stable operation, the effect of removing 60% of the granular sludge was investigated. Immunologic qualitative and quantitative studies showed that removal of the granular sludge resulted in an increase in the number of the predominant methanogens, antigenically related to Methanosarcina thermophila TM-1 and Methanosarcina mazeii S-6, and Methanobacterium thermoautotrophicum delta H and GC1. These changes were accompanied by modifications of the microanatomy of the granules, as demonstrated histochemically and immunohistochemically. The results indicated that different catabolic pathways dominated in different regions of the granules, i.e., acetate oxidation in the middle of the granules, where there is a low acetate concentration, and an aceticlastic reaction in the outer surfaces, with a high acetate concentration. The results also showed that removal of granules from a UASB reactor which has been under steady-state operation for a long period can improve the reactor's performance via formation of denser and larger granules with improved microbial activities.