SUMMARY: The analysis of complex microbiota present in activated sludge is important for the understanding and possible control of severe separation problems in sewage treatment such as sludge bulking or sludge foaming. Previous studies have shown that nocardioform actinomycetes are responsible for these conditions, which not only affect the efficiency of sewage treatment but also represent a threat to public health due to spread of pathogens. However, isolation and identification of these filamentous, nocardioform actinomycetes is hampered by their fastidious nature. Most species are still uncultivable and their taxonomy is unresolved. To study the ecology of these micro-organisms at the molecular level, we have established a clone library of 16S rRNA gene fragments amplified from bulk sludge DNA. A rough indication of the predominant flora in the sludge was given by sequencing randomly chosen clones, which revealed a great diversity of bacteria from different taxa. Colony hybridization with oligonucleotide probe MNP1 detected 27 clones with 16S rDNA inserts from nocardioform actinomycetes and mycobacteria. The sequence data from these clones together with those from randomly chosen clones were used for comparative 16S rRNA analysis and construction of dendrograms. All sequences differed from those of previously sequenced species in the databases. Phenotypic characterization of isolates of nocardioform actinomycetes and mycobacteria cultivated in parallel from the same activated-sludge sample revealed a large discrepancy between the two approaches. Only one 16S rDNA sequence of a cultured isolate was represented in the clone library, indicating that culture conditions could select species which represent only a small fraction of the organisms in the activated sludge.


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