The goal of the current research was to determine if the stringent nutrient limitation imposed by membrane-coupled bioreactors (MBRs) could be used to force mixed bacterial communities to exhibit a zero net growth rate over an extended time period. Mechanistically, this zero net growth rate could be achieved when the amount of energy available for growth is balanced by the maintenance requirements of the bacterial community. Bench-scale MBRs were fed synthetic feed medium containing gelatin as the major organic substrate. Biomass concentrations initially increased rapidly, but subsequently declined until an asymptote was reached. Leucine aminopeptidase activities concomitantly increased by at least 10-fold, suggesting that bacterial catabolic activity remained high even while growth rates became negligible. In contrast, α-glucosidase and heptanoate esterase activities decreased, indicating that the bacterial community specifically adapted to the carbon source in the feed medium. Bacterial community analysis by denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis of PCR-amplified 16S rRNA gene fragments (PCR-DGGE) suggested that the bacterial community structure completely changed from the beginning to the end of each MBR. Excision and nucleotide sequence analysis of prominent PCR-DGGE bands suggested that many of the dominant populations were similar to novel bacterial strains that were previously uncultivated or recently cultivated during studies specifically targeting these novel populations. This research demonstrates that MBRs have substantial practical applications for biological wastewater treatment; in addition, MBRs are a useful tool to study the ecology of slow-growing bacteria.