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Examination of Thermophilic Methane-Producing Digesters by Analysis of Bacterial Lipids †

  • J. Michael Henson
  • Paul H. Smith
  • David C. White
Publication Date
Dec 01, 1985
  • Chemistry
  • Medicine


Thermophilic methane-producing digesters were examined by the analysis of lipids to determine the microbial biomass, community structure, and nutritional status of the microbes within the digesters. The digesters received a daily feedstock of cattle feed and Bermuda grass, with some digesters receiving additional supplements of propionate, butyrate, or nitrate. Microbial biomass, measured as total extractable lipid phosphate, was decreased in slurries from digesters receiving continuous addition of the fermentation intermediates propionate or butyrate as compared with slurries from control digesters receiving the feedstock alone. In slurries from digesters that received continuous addition of nitrate, the microbial biomass was higher than in the slurries from control digesters. The control digesters had ca. 2.5 × 1011 bacteria per g (dry weight) as determined from total extractable lipid phosphate. Shifts in microbial community structure were observed by analysis of ester-linked phospholipid fatty acids. Statistical analysis of the patterns of phospholipid fatty acids indicated that the digesters receiving different supplements could be distinguished from the control digester and from each other. Poly-β-hydroxybutyric acid, an indicator of metabolic stress, was detected in slurries from all the digesters. Slurries from the nitrate-amended digester had the highest concentration of poly-β-hydroxybutyric acid, whereas slurries from the propionate-amended digester had the lowest concentration. These chemical analyses offer a quantitative means to correlate shifts in microbial biomass, community structure, and nutritional status in complex fermentation systems to the production of a specific end product.

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