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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Characterization of pure cultures isolated from sulfamethoxazole-acclimated activated sludge with respect to taxonomic identification and sulfamethoxazole biodegradation potential

Bastian Herzog1*, Hilde Lemmer2, Harald Horn3 and Elisabeth Müller1

Author Affiliations

1 Chair of Urban Water Systems Engineering, Technische Universität München, Am Coulombwall, D-85748 Garching, Germany

2 Bavarian Environment Agency, Bürgermeister-Ulrich-Str. 160, D-86179 Augsburg, Germany

3 Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Engler-Bunte-Institut, Bereich Wasserchemie und Wassertechnologie, D-76131 Karlsruhe, Germany

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BMC Microbiology 2013, 13:276  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-13-276

Published: 1 December 2013



Sulfamethoxazole (SMX, sulfonamide antibiotic) biodegradation by activated sludge communities (ASC) is still only partly understood. The present work is focusing on nine different bacteria species capable of SMX biodegradation that were isolated from SMX-acclimated ASC.


Initially 110 pure cultures, isolated from activated sludge, were screened by UV-absorbance measurements (UV-AM) for their SMX biodegradation potential. Identification via almost complete 16S rRNA gene sequencing revealed five Pseudomonas spp., one Brevundimonas sp., one Variovorax sp. and two Microbacterium spp.. Thus seven species belonged to the phylum Proteobacteria and two to Actinobacteria. These cultures were subsequently incubated in media containing 10 mg L-1 SMX and different concentrations of carbon (sodium-acetate) and nitrogen (ammonium-nitrate). Different biodegradation patterns were revealed with respect to media composition and bacterial species. Biodegradation, validated by LC-UV measurements to verify UV-AM, occurred very fast with 2.5 mg L-1 d-1 SMX being biodegraded in all pure cultures in, for UV-AM modified, R2A-UV medium under aerobic conditions and room temperature. However, reduced and different biodegradation rates were observed for setups with SMX provided as co-substrate together with a carbon/nitrogen source at a ratio of DOC:N – 33:1 with rates ranging from 1.25 to 2.5 mg L-1 d-1.


Media containing only SMX as carbon and nitrogen source proved the organisms’ ability to use SMX as sole nutrient source where biodegradation rates decreased to 1.0 – 1.7 mg L-1 d-1. The different taxonomically identified species showed specific biodegradation rates and behaviours at various nutrient conditions. Readily degradable energy sources seem to be crucial for efficient SMX biodegradation.

Batch setups; Wastewater treatment plants; Xenobiotics; UV-absorbance; Pharmaceuticals; Phylogenetic analyses; Sulfamethoxazole