Autothermal thermophilic aerobic digestion (ATAD) is conducted for stabilization of sludge waste and is driven by the action of various microorganisms under aerobic conditions. However, the mechanism controlling bacterial community changes during ATAD via three (initial, middle and final) phases is currently unclear. To investigate this mechanism, activity analysis and a microcosm assay with shaking were performed on a bacterial community during the initial, middle, and final phases of incubation. Cell lysis activities toward gram-negative bacteria, but not gram-positive bacteria, were detected in the ATAD samples in the middle and final phases. During shaking incubation in initial-phase samples at 30 °C, major operational taxonomic units (OTUs) related to Acinetobacter indicus and Arcobacter cibarius dramatically increased along with decreases in several major OTUs. In middle-phase samples at 45 °C, we observed a major alteration of OTUs related to Caldicellulosiruptor bescii and Aciditerrimonas ferrireducens, together with distinct decreases in several other OTUs. Final-phase samples maintained a stable bacterial community with major OTUs showing limited similarities to Heliorestis baculata, Caldicellulosiruptor bescii, and Ornatilinea apprima. In conclusion, the changes in the bacterial community observed during ATAD could be partially attributed to the cell lysis activity toward gram-negative bacteria in the middle and final phases. The microcosm assay suggested that certain physical factors, such as a high oxygen supply and shearing forces, also might contribute to bacterial community changes in the initial and middle phases, and to the stable bacterial community in the final phase of ATAD.
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