Research Article: Structure and predictive functional profiling of microbial communities in two biotrickling filters treated with continuous/discontinuous waste gases

Date Published: January 4, 2019

Publisher: Springer Berlin Heidelberg

Author(s): Rongfang Feng, Meiying Xu, Jianjun Li, Shaobin Huang, Gang Zhao, Xiang Tu, Guoping Sun, Jun Guo.


Two biotrickling filters were operated in continuous (BTF1) and discontinuous (BTF2) modes at a constant empty bed residence time of 60 s for 60 days. From day 60, the operation mode of each BTF was oppositely switched. Higher removal efficiencies of five aromatic pollutants were recorded with BTF1 (> 77.2%). The switch in the operation mode did not alter the removal performance of BTF1. Comparatively, BTF2 was not successfully acclimated in the discontinuous operation mode. Once the mode had been switched to continuous mode, the removal efficiencies of BTF2 on all pollutants increased drastically and finally exceeded the values observed in BTF1, with the single exception of p-xylene. Principle coordinate analysis and analysis of similarities (ANOSIM) showed that the structure of the microbial communities differed considerably between both BTFs (R = 1.000, p < 0.01) as well as before and after the switch in BTF2 (R = 0.996, p < 0.01). The random forest model demonstrated that Mycobacterium, Burkholderia, and Comamonas were the three most important bacterial genera contributing to the differences in microbial communities between the two BTFs. Metagenomics inferred by PICUSt (phylogenetic investigation of communities by reconstruction of unobserved states) indicated that BTF2 had high degradation potential for aromatic pollutants, although those genes involved in biofilm formation were less active in BTF2 than those in BTF1.

Partial Text

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are generated from many industrial activities such as petroleum refining, coating and furniture manufacturing (Lee et al. 2009; Cheng et al. 2016). The release of VOCs into the atmosphere poses a severe threat to human health and welfare (Gallastegui et al. 2011). Furthermore, many kinds of VOCs are primarily responsible for the formation of photochemical smog (Guo 2012; Wang 2015). Large quantities of waste gases containing VOCs are emitted each year in China, leading to increasingly severe air pollution; in response to this, Chinese authorities are reinforcing the management of pollution control (Tong et al. 2013; Zhu et al. 2016). Benzene and toluene, together with ethyl benzene and xylene constitute BTEX, account for approximately 59% (w/w) of gasoline pollutants (Rahul et al. 2013). BTEX ranked 78 of 275 substances that were identified as showing the most significant potential threat to human health based on the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA 2007). Toluene, ethyl benzene and o-xylene are highly toxic and mutagenic, and many health problems, including kidney failure, heart attack, and liver disease, are likely to be caused by chronic exposure to these substances (Wilbur et al. 2008; Singh et al. 2010; Rahul et al. 2013).

Five aromatic compounds were used as target pollutants in this study. Our findings demonstrated that toluene and ethyl benzene could be easily removed in the continuously operated BTF1. However, the presence of xylene inhibited the overall removal performance of BTF1. The decrease in the inlet concentrations of xylene reduced this inhibitory effect. Interactions between the components of mixed gases have been reported in the literature, but some reports were conflicting. For instance, Strauss et al. (2004) and Kim et al. (2009) reported that the removal of toluene was inhibited by p-xylene, while the removal of p-xylene was enhanced by toluene. Another study showed that xylene isomers decreased the RE of toluene, but the effect of toluene on xylene was negligible (Jorio et al. 1998). The inhibitory effect between these aromatic compounds was explained by their similarities in the chemical structure, the metabolic pathways and the enzymes (Gallastegui et al. 2011). However, the interaction during the removal of similar compounds was also influenced by other factors such as the inlet loading rates, the type of microorganisms and the configuration of the bioreactor.