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Assessment of microbial communities in decomposition of specified risk material using a passively aerated laboratory-scale composter.

Xu, S., McAllister, T.A., Leonard, J.J., Clark, G.O., and Belosevic, M. (2010). "Assessment of microbial communities in decomposition of specified risk material using a passively aerated laboratory-scale composter.", Compost Science & Utilization, 18(4), pp. 255-265.


The occurrence of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in Canada has resulted in the implementation of regulations to remove specified risk material (SRM) from the food chain. SRM includes the distal ileum of all cattle, and the skull, brain, trigeminal ganglia, eyes, palatine tonsils, and spinal cord and dorsal root ganglia of cattle >30 months of age. Composting may be a viable alternative to rendering for SRM disposal. In our study, two bulking agents, barley straw and wood shavings, were composted with beef manure along with SRM in passively aerated, laboratory-scale composters. Both composts heated rapidly, exceeding 55°C after 3 days with oxygen declining in the early composting stage with wood-shaving compost, but returning to near-original levels after 5 days. During composting the two matrices differed (P < 0.05) only in water content, TC and bulk density. In the final compost, water content, TC and C/N ratio were higher (P < 0.05), while EC was lower (P < 0.05) in the wood shavings as compared to the straw compost. Approximately 50% of SRM was decomposed after 15 days of composting, with 30% of SRM being decomposed within the first 5 days. Phospholipid fatty acid (PLFA) profiles were used to characterize the microbial communities and showed that Gram positive bacteria were predominant in compost at day 5, a point that coincided with a rapid increase in temperature. Gram negative bacteria and anaerobes declined at day 5 but populations recovered by day 15. Fungi appeared to be suppressed as temperatures exceeded 55°C and did not appear to recover over the remainder of the composting period, with the exception of the straw compost at day 15. On day 5, Actinomycetes increased in the straw compost, but declined in the wood shavings compost, with this group increasing in both types of compost at day 15. Although temporal changes were evident, compost matrices or depth within the composter did not obviously influence microbial communities. Decomposition of SRM also did not differ between compost matrices or with depth in the composters. These results suggest that SRM decompose rapidly during composting and that both mesophilic and thermophilic microbial communities play a role in its decomposition.

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