Biofilm distribution in a porous medium environment emulating shallow subsurface conditions
Massey, KaeLee Frances
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Microorganisms in the terrestrial subsurface play important roles in nutrient cycling and degradation of anthropogenic contaminants, functions essential to the maintenance of healthy aquifers. Microorganisms have the potential to change the geochemical properties of the shallow terrestrial subsurface, and previous studies have uncovered significant roles microorganisms can play in groundwater processes, such as biogeochemical cycling. Much of the attention given to the shallow terrestrial subsurface has been focused on the effects of contamination and how microorganisms function in these systems, with far less emphasis on understanding how hydraulic properties influence subsurface microbial ecology. To fully understand how environmental factors impact microbial community dynamics, interactions, succession, colonization, and dispersal in the shallow subsurface environment it is essential to understand the link between microbiology and hydrology. In this thesis, an up-flow packed bed reactor (PBR) was designed to emulate select field conditions (i.e., flow rate and particle size) observed at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory-Field Research Center (ORNL-FRC) to observe how environmental factors influences metabolic activity, community establishment, and cell distribution in a micropore environment. Furthermore, we developed methods to visualize the localization of active and non-active cells within the porous medium. The goals of this thesis were to 1) understand how environmental variables impact distribution and metabolic activity of microbial cells in the soil pore microenvironment at the FRC using native sediment bug trap material, 2) evaluate the hydraulic properties of the presented up-flow packed bed reactor (PBR), 3) observe how inert, non-charged particles distribute in a porous media environment, and 4) observe the biofilm distribution a microorganism isolated from the ORNL-FRC using different inoculation strategies. Overall, the data demonstrates that the presented reactor system accurately emulates field conditions and environmental factors (pH, particle size, average pore velocity) and the distribution of cells in ex situ conditions. The results of this thesis have implications for elucidating the impacts of environmental factors on metabolic activity and cell distribution in a field relevant reactor system.