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WE&RF Awards Research Contract to Investigate Newly Discovered Bacteria in Nitrification Processes

July 24, 2017 (Alexandria, VA)  The Water Environment & Reuse Foundation recently awarded a contract to Northeastern University to perform a research project entitled Estimating the Comammox Contribution to Ammonia Oxidation in Nitrogen Removal Systems (U4R16). Comammox (CMX) bacteria was recently discovered and may be a big factor in nitrification processes. This discovery overturns previous knowledge that aerobic nitrification is catalyzed by two different microorganisms.

The research team will determine the distribution, activity, and impact of CMX bacteria on nitrogen removal systems. Wastewater innovations previously heavily relied on two-step nitrification, nitration followed by denitration or anaerobic ammonia oxidation. While nitrification remains a two-step process converting ammonia to nitrite and then nitrite to nitrate, the presence of CMX bacteria may affect the overall efficiency of nitrogen removal. Measurement of CMX bacteria activity is thus critical to incorporate their kinetics into nitrogen removal systems. 

As CMX bacteria is new discovery, there currently is no approach to monitor its abundance or activity. The research will test for CMX bacteria in different nitrogen removal systems at thirteen treatment plants to determine the environmental conditions where CMX contributes to overall ammonia oxidation. The research team has three main objectives: 1)  develop DNA method to quantify CMX bacteria, 2) develop a kinetic assay to determine ammonia oxidation rates of CMX bacteria, 3) determine factors that control abundance and activity of CMX bacteria.

The project is anticipated to be completed in 2019.


The Water Environment & Reuse Foundation (WE&RF) is a nonprofit (501c3) organization officially formed in July 2016 as the result of the merger of the Water Environment Research Foundation and the WateReuse Research Foundation. The merged research foundation, with a combined research portfolio representing over $200 million, conducts research to treat and recover beneficial materials from wastewater, stormwater, and seawater including water, nutrients, energy, and biosolids.