The biodegradation characteristics of palm oil mill effluent (POME) and the related microbial community were studied in both actual sequential anaerobic ponds in Malaysia and enrichment cultures. The significant degradation of the POME was observed in the second pond, in which the temperature was 35-37°C. In this pond, biodegradation of major long chain fatty acids (LCFA), such as palmitic acid (C16:0) and oleic acid (C18:1), was also confirmed. The enrichment culture experiment was conducted with different feeding substrates, i.e. POME, C16:0 and C18:1, at 35°C. Good recovery of methane indicated biodegradation of feeds in the POME and C16:0 enrichments. The methane production rate of the C18:1 enrichment was slower than other substrates and inhibition of methanogenesis was frequently observed. Denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) analyses indicated the existence of LCFA-degrading bacteria, such as the genus Syntrophus and Syntorophomonas, in all enrichment cultures operated at 35°C. Anaerobic degradation of the POME under mesophilic conditions was stably processed as compared with thermophilic conditions.
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