Wastewater effluents are the largest source of pollution to surface waters in Canada. New regulations are emerging that require infrastructure upgrades to achieve secondary treatment in approximately 25% of Canada’s wastewater treatment plants (WWTP) over the next 30 years.
The activated sludge process combining mechanical aeration with a community of microorganisms is commonly used for secondary wastewater treatment at municipal scales. Bulking and foaming are two operational problems associated with the activated sludge process that can decrease operational efficiency and reduce effluent water quality. Although a diverse assemblage of filamentous bacteria known as bulking and foaming bacteria (BFB) have been implicated in these operational problems over many decades of observation, there are still only a limited number of methods used to detect them.
Although DNA barcoding methods based on environmental DNA (eDNA) have been recently applied to identify BFB in WWTP, most tests used by plant operators to detect the presence and abundance of BFB typically involve chemical staining and microscopy. Such methods consume considerable time and resources and require specialized training. Plant operators and managers consistently indicate an interest in finding alternative methods for more automated, accurate and quantitative BFB monitoring to reduce costs and improve effluent quality.
A University of British Columbia research team is developing next generation monitoring tools based on improved methods of eDNA extraction, sequencing and targeted BFB detection to replace outdated methods. The development of these tools will inform and improve WWTP operations and result in a new application that can be extended to other sectors interested in using eDNA monitoring for improved industrial bioprocess controls.