From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Sphaerotilus natans)
Jump to: navigation, search
Sphaerotilus natansD.jpeg
Submerged Sphaerotilus colonies with floating insect in the lower right for scale. Beige color shown is typical of aerated sewage treatment plants, but color may vary through grey toward black downstream of septic sewage or into brighter orange from precipitated ferric oxide.
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Bacteria
Phylum: Proteobacteria
Class: Betaproteobacteria
Order: Burkholderiales
Family: Comamonadaceae
Genus: Sphaerotilus
Kützing, 1833

Sphaerotilus or Sphaerotilus natans is an aquatic periphyton organism associated with polluted water. It forms colonies commonly known as "sewage fungus", but later identified as tightly sheathed filamentous bacteria.[1]


Straight or smoothly curved filaments 1.5 µm in diameter and 100 to more than 500 µm in length are formed by rod-shaped cells with clear septa growing within a long, tubular sheath. An adhesive basal element at one end of the filament can aid attachment to solid surfaces.[2] The sheath offers some protection from predators, and the ability to anchor in flowing water allows access to a passing stream of food and nutrients.[3] Individual mature cells swarm out of the protective tube to colonize new sites.[4] Each motile mature cell has an intertwined bundle of flagella appearing as a single flagellum of a long filament with a short hook and a basal body complex; but distinguishable with an electron microscope as ten to thirty strands with diameters of 12.5 to 16 nm. Sphaerotilus stores reserves of poly- beta -hydroxybutyrate (PBH) as internal globules making up thirty to forty percent of the dry weight of a colony.[3] Gram and Neisser staining reactions are negative.[5]


Sphaerotilus requires dissolved simple sugars or organic acids as a food supply, but needs less phosphorus than many competing organisms and can tolerate low oxygen concentrations.[5] Capability to deposit elemental sulfur intracellularly in the presence of hydrogen sulfide is believed to be a detoxifying mechanism. Sphaerotilus requires either cobalamin or methionine as a trace nutrient.[3] Sphaerotilus filaments can aid development of a periphyton biofilm trapping suspended particles and stabilizing colonies of other organisms including Klebsiella and Pseudomonas.[2]


Sphaerotilus is often associated with a buoyant floc (or "bulking sludge") causing poor solids separation in activated sludge clarifiers of secondary sewage treatment.[4] Metal surfaces covered with Sphaerotilus may experience accelerated corrosion if the slime creates a barrier causing differential oxygen concentrations.[6] Sphaerotilus slimes may reduce quality of paper produced by paper mills using recycled water streams.[2]


  • Betz Laboratories Handbook of Industrial Water Conditioning (7th Edition) Betz Laboratories (1976)
  • Fair, Gordon Maskew, Geyer, John Charles & Okun, Daniel Alexander Water and Wastewater Engineering (Volume 2) John Wiley & Sons (1968)
  • Hammer, Mark J. Water and Waste-Water Technology John Wiley & Sons (1975) ISBN 0-471-34726-4


  1. ^ Fair, Geyer & Okun p.32-31
  2. ^ a b c Pellegrin, Véronique; Juretschko, Stefan; Wagner, Michael; Cottenceau, Gilles (1999). "Morphological and Biochemical Properties of a Sphaerotilus sp. Isolated From Paper Mill Slimes". Applied and Environmental Microbiology 65 (1): 156–62. PMC 90997. PMID 9872774. Retrieved September 26, 2012. 
  3. ^ a b c Van Veen, WL; Mulder, EG; Deinema, MH (1978). "The Sphaerotilus-Leptothrix group of bacteria". Microbiological Reviews 42 (2): 329–356. PMC 281433. PMID 353479. Retrieved September 26, 2012. 
  4. ^ a b Hammer p.55
  5. ^ a b "Sphaerotilus natans". Environmental Business Specialists LLC. Retrieved 2012-09-26. 
  6. ^ Betz pp.288&289