The study aimed to explore the conversion processes of hydrolysable substrates by activated sludge. Experimental data were collected from a sequencing batch reactor (SBR) and from batch tests using activated sludge acclimated to native potato starch (NIPS). Parallel batch tests were run with NPS (particulate), soluble starch (SoIS), maltose, and glucose for comparative evaluation. The fate of organic carbon in the reactor was followed directly by measuring substrate, poly-glucose, and oxygen uptake rate. Results indicated that adsorption was the dominant mechanism for starch removal with subsequent enzymatic hydrolysis inside the flocs. The role of bulk liquid enzyme activity was minimal. Starch was observed to hydrolyze to maltose rather than glucose. The behavior of NPS and SoIS was quite similar to maltose in terms of poly-glucose formation and oxygen uptake. Since the simplest hydrolysis product was maltose, the biomass was not acclimated to glucose and thus, glucose exhibited a significantly different removal and storage pattern. The study also showed that differentiation of readily biodegradable and slowly biodegradable COD should better be based on the kinetics of their utilization rather than simple physical characterization. (c) 2005 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.