Wastewater is often treated using the activated sludge process. Flocculation and subsequent sedimentation of flocs are vital steps in this process that have direct influence on the quality of the effluent water from wastewater treatment plants. Since cells that remain free-living will decrease the quality of the effluent water it is important to understand the mechanisms of bacterial adhesion to flocs. The green fluorescent protein (GFP) was used as a cellular marker to study bacterial adhesion to activated sludge flocs in sludge liquor. Cell surface hydrophobicity (CSH) was shown to be an important factor that determined the relative bacterial adhesion potential. High CSH correlated with high numbers of attached cells. However, the absolute adhesion of two test bacteria to different sludge flocs varied and could not be explained by the floc characteristics. Confocal laser scanning microscopy of GFP-marked cells showed their position in the floc matrix Hydrophobic cells attached not only on the surface but also within the floc, whereas hydrophilic cells did not. This indicates that cells may penetrate the flocs through channels and pores and increase the effective surface, which in turn makes the clarification of the wastewater effluent more efficient. The addition of polymers is common practice in wastewater treatment and was shown to increase bacterial adhesion to the flocs. A decrease in surface tension caused by addition of DMSO decreased adhesion, indicating the detrimental effect of surfactants on flocculation. An understanding of basic bacterial adhesion and aggregation mechanisms is important for the managment and control of biotechnological wastewater treatment.


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