Effects of dissolved organic matter and nitrification on biodegradation of pharmaceuticals in aerobic enrichment cultures

Yujie He, Alette A.M. Langenhoff*, Rob N.J. Comans, Nora B. Sutton, Huub H.M. Rijnaarts

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Natural dissolved organic matter (DOM) and nitrification can play an important role in biodegradation of pharmaceutically active compounds (PhACs) in aerobic zones of constructed wetlands (CWs). This study used an enrichment culture originating from CW sediment to study the effect of DOM and nitrification on aerobic biodegradation of seven PhACs. The enriched culture degraded caffeine (CAF), metoprolol (MET), naproxen (NAP), and ibuprofen (IBP) with a consistent biodegradability order of CAF > MET > NAP > IBP. Biodegradation of propranolol, carbamazepine, and diclofenac was insignificant (<15%). CAF biodegradation was inhibited by the easily biodegradable DOM. Conversely, DOM enhanced biodegradation of MET, NAP, and IBP, potentially by contributing more biomass capable of degrading PhACs. Nitrification enhanced biodegradation of NAP and IBP and mineralization of the PhAC mixture as well as less biodegradable DOM, which may result from co-metabolism of ammonia oxidizing bacteria or enhanced heterotrophic microbial activity under nitrification. MET biodegradation was inhibited in the presence of nitrification. DOM and nitrification effects on PhAC biodegradation in CWs gained from this study can be used in strategies to improve CW operation, namely: designing hydraulic retention times based on the biodegradability order of specific PhACs; applying DOM amendment; and introducing consistent ammonium streams to increase removal of PhACs of interest.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1335-1342
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 2018


  • Aerobic biodegradation
  • Constructed wetland
  • DOM
  • Microbial degradation preference
  • Nitrification
  • Pharmaceuticals

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