Modelling, Simulation and Optimization of Autotrophic Nitrogen Removal Processes Modelleren, Simuleren En Optimaliseren Van
The anaerobic ammonium oxidation process is a new process for ammonia removal from wastewater. It is also a new microbial physiology that was previously believed to be impossible. The identification of Candidatus Brocadia anammoxidans and its relatives as the responsible bacteria was only possible with the development of a new experimental approach. That approach is the focus of this paper. The approach is a modernisation of the Winogradsky/Beyerinck strategy of selective enrichment and is based on the introduction of the molecular toolbox and modern bioreactor engineering to microbial ecology. It consists of five steps: (1) postulation of an ecological niche based on thermodynamic considerations and macro-ecological field data; (2) engineering of this niche into a laboratory bioreactor for enrichment culture; (3) black-box physiological characterisation of the enrichment culture as a whole; (4) phylogenetic characterisation of the enriched community using molecular tools; (5) physical separation of the dominant members of the enrichment culture using gradient centrifugation and the identification of the species of interest in accordance with Koch's postulates; (6) verification of the in situ importance of these species in the actual ecosystems. The power of this approach is illustrated with a case study: the identification of the planctomycetes responsible for anaerobic ammonium oxidation. We argue that this was impossible using molecular ecology or conventional ‘cultivation based techniques’ alone. We suggest that the approach might also be used for the microbiological study of many interesting microbes such as anaerobic methane oxidisers.