Resolving the individual contribution of key microbial populations to enhanced biological phosphorus removal with Raman–FISH
Enhanced biological phosphorus removal (EBPR) is a globally important biotechnological process and relies on the massive accumulation of phosphate within special microorganisms. Candidatus Accumulibacter conform to the classical physiology model for polyphosphate accumulating organisms and are widely believed to be the most important player for the process in full-scale EBPR systems. However, it was impossible till now to quantify the contribution of specific microbial clades to EBPR. In this study, we have developed a new tool to directly link the identity of microbial cells to the absolute quantification of intracellular poly-P and other polymers under in situ conditions, and applied it to eight full-scale EBPR plants. Besides Ca. Accumulibacter, members of the genus Tetrasphaera were found to be important microbes for P accumulation, and in six plants they were the most important. As these Tetrasphaera cells did not exhibit the classical phenotype of poly-P accumulating microbes, our entire understanding of the microbiology of the EBPR process has to be revised. Furthermore, our new single-cell approach can now also be applied to quantify storage polymer dynamics in individual populations in situ in other ecosystems and might become a valuable tool for many environmental microbiologists.