Biological approach to wastewater treatment

La Trobe researchers explore ways to effectively manage bacteria in wastewater treatment plants

Dr Steve Petrovski’s latest research on wastewater has revealed new insights into Saccharibacteria, a group of bacteria referred to as ‘biological dark matter’ due to its mysterious nature.

“Saccharibacteria has only been identified relatively recently and much remains to be discovered about its biology, ecology and function,” says Dr Petrovski.

“Through our research project we were able to isolate the Saccharibacteria organism from wastewater which has given us significant insight into its potential role and will allow us to delve deeper into its biology.”

Dr Petrovski’s research project aimed to address operational problems that commonly occur in wastewater treatment plants.

“Wastewater treatment plants rely heavily on bacteria to eliminate excessive nutrients. However, this process can be disrupted when there is an overabundance of resilient bacteria. These disruptions cause significant financial burdens on the industry worldwide,” he says.

“To address this, we investigated the interactions between bacteria and bacteriophages, which are viruses that infect and replicate in bacterial cells. Our research also explores strategies to effectively manage problematic bacteria in wastewater treatment plants.”

Dr Petrovski says existing physical control methods used in wastewater treatment plants are often unreliable.

“Instead, we have used a biological approach using bacteria and viruses capable of eradicating problematic bacteria. As a result, we have successfully isolated numerous bacteriophages capable of effectively controlling the excessive growth of problem bacteria.”

“We hope our findings will help inform the development of innovative biological methods to ensure efficient treatment of wastewater.”