The occurrence, distribution and activity of archaeal populations within two aerated, activated sludge wastewater treatment systems, one treating domestic waste and the second treating mixed domestic and industrial wastewater, were investigated by denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) analysis of polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-amplified ribosomal RNA gene fragments and process measurements. In the plant receiving mixed industrial and domestic waste the archaeal populations found in the mixed liquor were very similar to those in the influent sewage, though a small number of DGGE bands specific to the mixed liquor were identified. In contrast, the activated sludge treating principally domestic waste harboured distinct archaeal populations associated with the mixed liquor that were not prevalent in the influent sewage. We deduce that the Archaea in the plant treating mixed wastewater were derived principally from the influent, whereas those in the plant treating solely domestic waste were actively growing in the treatment plant. Archaeal 16S rRNA gene sequences related to the Methanosarcinales, Methanomicrobiales and the Methanobacteriales were detected. Methanogenesis was measured in activated sludge samples incubated under oxic and anoxic conditions, demonstrating that the methanogens present in both activated sludge plants were active only in anoxic incubations. The relatively low rates of methanogenesis measured indicated that, although active, the methanogens play a minor role in carbon turnover in activated sludge.
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