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Structural and Functional Dynamics of Sulfate-Reducing Populations in Bacterial Biofilms

  • Cecilia M. Santegoeds
  • Timothy G. Ferdelman
  • Gerard Muyzer
  • Dirk de Beer
American Society for Microbiology
Publication Date
Oct 01, 1998


We describe the combined application of microsensors and molecular techniques to investigate the development of sulfate reduction and of sulfate-reducing bacterial populations in an aerobic bacterial biofilm. Microsensor measurements for oxygen showed that anaerobic zones developed in the biofilm within 1 week and that oxygen was depleted in the top 200 to 400 μm during all stages of biofilm development. Sulfate reduction was first detected after 6 weeks of growth, although favorable conditions for growth of sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB) were present from the first week. In situ hybridization with a 16S rRNA probe for SRB revealed that sulfate reducers were present in high numbers (approximately 108 SRB/ml) in all stages of development, both in the oxic and anoxic zones of the biofilm. Denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) showed that the genetic diversity of the microbial community increased during the development of the biofilm. Hybridization analysis of the DGGE profiles with taxon-specific oligonucleotide probes showed that Desulfobulbus and Desulfovibrio were the main sulfate-reducing bacteria in all biofilm samples as well as in the bulk activated sludge. However, different Desulfobulbus and Desulfovibrio species were found in the 6th and 8th weeks of incubation, respectively, coinciding with the development of sulfate reduction. Our data indicate that not all SRB detected by molecular analysis were sulfidogenically active in the biofilm.

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