Sulfate-rich mine water must be treated before it is released into natural water bodies. We tested ethanol as substrate in bioreactors designed for biological sulfate removal from mine water containing up to 9 g L−1
sulfate, using granular sludge from an industrial waste water treatment plant as inoculum. The pH, redox potential, and sulfate and sulfide concentrations were measured twice a week over a maximum of 171 days. The microbial communities in the bioreactors were characterized by qPCR and high throughput amplicon sequencing. The pH in the bioreactors fluctuated between 5.0 and 7.7 with the highest amount of up to 50% sulfate removed measured around pH 6. Dissimilatory sulfate reducing bacteria (SRB) constituted only between 1% and 15% of the bacterial communities. Predicted bacterial metagenomes indicated a high prevalence of assimilatory sulfate reduction proceeding to formation of l
-cystein and acetate, assimilatory and dissimilatory nitrate reduction, denitrification, and oxidation of ethanol to acetaldehyde with further conversion to ethanolamine, but not to acetate. Despite efforts to maintain optimal conditions for biological sulfate reduction in the bioreactors, only a small part of the microorganisms were SRB. The microbial communities were highly diverse, containing bacteria, archaea, and fungi, all of which affected the overall microbial processes in the bioreactors. While it is important to monitor specific physicochemical parameters in bioreactors, molecular assessment of the microbial communities may serve as a tool to identify biological factors affecting bioreactor functions and to optimize physicochemical attributes for ideal bioreactor performance.
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