Medini Annavajhala To Showcase the Wastewater Treatment Potential of Commamox at WEFTEC 2017

September 15, 2017

Featured, Learning Opps

During WEFTEC 2017 Session No. 501, Medini Annavajhala will discuss the potential for using Commamox bacteria in wastewater treatment systems. Photo courtesy of Annavajhala.

During WEFTEC 2017 Session No. 501, Medini Annavajhala will discuss the potential for using Commamox bacteria in wastewater treatment systems. Photo courtesy of Annavajhala.

During WEFTEC 2017 Session No. 501, Commamox: New Kid on the Block, or Not?, attendees will learn about Commamox (CMX) bacteria, which have the ability to convert ammonia to nitrate within a single organism. Presentations during the session provide an overview of CMX and research into incorporating it into the engineered nitrogen cycle at water resource recovery facilities (WRRFs).

Medini Annavajhala, postdoctoral researcher in the Columbia University (New York) Medical Center Infectious Diseases Division, will discuss research into the functional potential of CMX in full-scale wastewater treatment systems. She completed her doctorate in earth and environmental engineering as a Presidential Fellow at the university. She received her undergraduate degrees in biological sciences and environmental policy while researching chemical catalysis of organic water pollutants.

What are the key takeaways from your presentation?

The work presented here reveals the presence of gene sequences from the recently discovered bacteria capable of complete ammonia oxidation to nitrate in various full-scale WRRFs around the globe. Commamox represents a completely new metabolic pathway involved in biological nitrogen removal. Because of the ubiquity of commamox bacteria reported in my talk, we show that this novel transformation must be accounted for in biological nutrient removal models for improved process design and operation.

In my other presentation [Session No. 500], I will be approaching the recovery of volatile fatty acids from food waste from a meta-genomic perspective, leading to significant improvements in the current models for anaerobic digestion as it pertains to volatile fatty acid production. Both talks provide a framework for understanding both who (which bacteria) and what (which metabolic pathways) can be found in engineered biological nutrient removal and recovery bioreactors.

What makes your project/presentation most interesting? 

My talks both focus on utilizing next-generation sequencing technology and bioinformatics to better understand biological waste and wastewater treatment. As we discover, develop, and apply new biological technologies to remove and recover nutrients from different waste streams, it will be equally important to understand the underlying microbial transformations involved and their inherent complexity.

What or who inspired you to get into this sector?

I always had been fascinated with the impacts humans have on our surrounding environment. While studying environmental policy as an undergraduate, I was exposed to the idea of an engineered water cycle, and the flow of drinking water, wastewater, and natural and man-made waterbodies. In my undergraduate research, I explored the chemical catalytic oxidation of organic water pollutants. These concepts were exciting and engaging, but as a biology and biochemistry major, I wanted to explore the role that microorganisms can play in environmental remediation, eventually arriving at biological nutrient removal and recovery.

Although I am currently focusing on the role of the human microbiome on disease and epidemiology, I plan to link the two fields and ultimately explore the relationship between human microbiota and microbial communities in the natural and built environment.

How do you pass on that inspiration to others?

Many people I have talked to outside the wastewater sector think of it as a static, predictable process. I believe the most important approach to get others excited is to highlight the incredible level of innovation, engineering, and understanding of physical, chemical, and biological processes required and going on today.

In both informal and formal settings, I always aim to describe how my work affects not only the output of wastewater treatment systems, but also the way in which we understand and use microbial communities for specific goals, and the way humans shape and influence the environment.

Learn more about other featured WEFTEC 2017 speakers by searching for the keyword WEFTEC17Speakers.

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