Constructed wetlands (CWs) are well-established wastewater treatment technologies and applied for bioremediation of contaminated water. Despite the optimal performance of CWs, the understanding of the bacterial processes in the rhizosphere, where mainly microbial degradation processes take place, is still limited. In the present study, laboratory-scale CWs planted with Juncus effusus and running under controlled conditions were studied in order to evaluate removal efficiency of dimethylphenols (DMPs), also in comparison to an unplanted bed. Next to removal rates, the bacterial community structure, diversity, and distribution, their correlation with physiochemical parameters, and abundance of the phenol hydroxylase gene were determined. As a result, better removal performance of DMP isomers (3,4-, 3,5-, and 2,6-DMP added as singles compounds or in mixtures) and ammonium loads, together with a higher diversity index, bacterial number, and phenol hydroxylase gene abundance in Juncus effusus CW in comparison with the non-planted CW, indicates a clear rhizosphere effect in the experimental CWs. An enhancement in the DMP removal and the recovery of the phenol hydroxylase gene were found during the fed with the DMP mixture. In addition, the shift of bacterial community in CWs was found to be DMP isomer dependent. Positive correlations were found between the bacteria harboring the phenol hydroxylase gene and communities present with 3,4-DMP and 3,5-DMP isomers, but not with the community developed with 2,6-DMP. These results indicate that CWs are highly dynamic ecosystems with rapid changes in bacterial communities harboring functional catabolic genes.
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