What is Polysaccharide coating?


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Polysaccharide coating- India Ink stains

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What is polysaccharide coating and what can I tell from it in my system?

gram stain polysaccharide coatingBacteria naturally produce glycocalyx, a polysaccharide coating for a number of reasons. Polysaccharide coating is a slime layer thinner than a capsule. It is produced to protect the bacterial cells in cases of toxic shock conditions. It also is produced to trap nutrients or food near the cell for easier digestion. It is also used to bind the cells together to form floc. The photo on the left shows a Gram stain of bacteria in a wastewater treatment plant. The pink slimy areas show the high polysaccharide coating produced by undesirable bacteria in a wastewater treatment system.


You can also perform an India ink staining on a biomass sample to check the levels of polysaccharide coating in the system. It is used to determine if the polysaccharide coating is normal or elevated. If the coating is high or excessive this can mean a nutrient deficiency or a recent toxic shock or high BOD loading. It is just a quick and easy test to determine how much polysaccharide is present but not why it has increased. It will be a quick indicator that there is a problem in your wastewater treastment plant and you should do some further checking into the system parameters. 


India ink stainsThe India Ink test is an excellent quick and dirty test that can be used daily. India Ink is basically carbon black particles. The particles block out all the light under the microscope except the polysaccharide coating that the bacteria produce. The light that shows through in the microscope is a measure of how much polysaccharide coating present that could not be penetrated by the India Ink.


Standard procedures are to add one drop of India ink on a wet mount to one drop of the biomass. Everything will be dark except for the polymer generated by the biomass. A normal biomass will have some bright areas relative to the size of the floc structures.
Extremely bright or excessive areas will indicate one of two things. A toxic shock to the system or nutrient deficiency. If there are higher life forms present, then a shock can instantly be ruled out and nutrient deficiency can probably be verified so you should start to check your nutrient levels. Sometimes though, zooglea can be the cause of high polysaccharide coating in a system. See below for information on Zooglea.


normal india ink stain high polysaccharide coating


If high, it can indicate a lack of nutrients or a recent shock to the wastewater treatment system. If there are tons of higher life forms present, you can probably rule out a shock and toxicity.


If a wastewater treatment plant has wide fluctuations on the influent loading, nutrient control should closely resemble the loading on the system. Nutrients levels and BOD Loading needs to be closely monitored and correlated to optimize and control a system. Nutrient deficiency can also cause excessive growth of filaments. It also can cause development of poor floc structures that either generate high levels of slime that are hard to dewater and increase polymer consumption but also can cause small, poor floc development and increase the level of TSS.


normal india ink stain high india ink stain

This photo shows only bright spots where the floc structures are present. The photo on the right has high polysaccharide coating and you can see where the polysaccharide coating extends beyond the actual floc particles and is streaming.


The photos on the bottom show the beginning of high polysaccharide coating

india ink high india ink high


These two photos show very high to excessive polysaccharide coating. See how the coating is extremely intense and almost sliming over the edges of the floc structures.

very high india ink stain very high india ink stain

india ink excessiveexcessive india ink stain


Zoogleal bacteria and polysaccharide bulking due to this species is an entirely different thing than normal high polysaccharide coating.


See Zoogleal bacteria in wastewater training sheets.



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