A novel approach to investigate biofilm accumulation and bacterial transport in porous matrices

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SummaryKnowledge of bacterial transport through, and biofilm growth in, porous media is vitally important in numerous natural and engineered environments. Despite this, porous media systems are generally oversimplified and the local complexity of cell transport, biofilm formation and the effect of biofilm accumulation on flow patterns is lost. In this study, cells of the sulphate-reducing bacterium, Desulfovibrio sp. EX265, accumulated primarily on the leading faces of obstructions and developed into biofilm, which grew to narrow and block pore throats (at a rate of 12 μm h−1 in one instance). This pore blocking corresponded to a decrease in permeability from 9.9 to 4.9 Darcy. Biofilm processes were observed in detail and quantitative data were used to describe the rate of biofilm accumulation temporally and spatially. Accumulation in the inlet zone of the micromodel was 10% higher than in the outlet zone and a mean biofilm height of 28.4 μm was measured in a micromodel with an average pore height of 34.9 μm. Backflow (flow reversal) of fluid was implemented on micromodels blocked with biofilm growth. Although biofilm surface area cover did immediately decrease (∼5%), the biofilm quickly re-established and permeability was not significantly affected (9.4 Darcy). These results demonstrate that the glass micromodel used here is an effective tool for in situ analysis and quantification of bacteria in porous media.

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