Dynamic change of pH in acidogenic fermentation of cheese whey towards polyhydroxyalkanoates production: Impact on performance and microbial population

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Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA) are a sustainable alternative to conventional plastics that can be obtained from industrial wastes/by-products using mixed microbial cultures (MMC). MMC PHA production is commonly carried out in a 3-stage process of acidogenesis, PHA culture selection and accumulation. This research focused on the possibility of tailoring PHA by controlling the acidogenic reactor operating conditions, namely pH, using cheese whey as model feedstock. The objective was to investigate the impact that dynamically varying the acidogenic pH, when targeting different PHA monomer profiles, had on the performance and microbial community profile of the anaerobic reactor. To accomplish this, an anaerobic reactor was continuously operated under dynamic pH changes, ranging from pH 4 to 7, turning to pH 6 after each change of pH. At pH 6, lactate and acetate were the dominant products (41-48% gCOD basis and 22-44% gCOD basis, respectively). At low pH, lactate production was higher while at high pH acetate production was favoured. Despite the dynamic change of pH, the fermentation product composition at pH 6 was always similar, showing the resilience of the process, i.e. when the same pH value was imposed, the culture produced the same metabolic products independently of the history of changes occurring in the system. The different fermentation product fractions led to PHAs of different compositions. The microbial community, analysed by high throughput sequencing of bacterial 16. S rRNA gene fragments, was dominated by . Lactobacillus, but varied markedly when subjected to the highest and lowest pH values of the tested range (4 and 7), with increase in the abundance of . Lactococcus and a member of the Candidate Division TM7. Different bacterial profiles obtained at pH 6 during this dynamic operation were able to produce a consistent profile of fermentation products (and consequently a constant PHA composition), demonstrating the community's functional redundancy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)108-116
Number of pages9
JournalNew Biotechnology
Issue numberPart A
Publication statusPublished - 25 Jul 2017
Event8th European Symposium on Biopolymers (ESBP) - Rome, Italy
Duration: 15 Sept 201518 Sept 2015


  • Acidogenic fermentation
  • Cheese whey
  • Microbial community
  • Organic acids
  • Polyhydroxyalkanoates


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