High-quality water purification systems using reverse osmosis (RO) membrane separation have faced a major challenge related to biofilm formation on the membrane surface, or biofouling. To understand this issue, the biofilm formation characteristics of four bacterial isolates previously retrieved from an RO membrane treating potable water were investigated. Biofilm formation of all four isolates occurred to different extents in microtiter plates and could be related to one or more cell properties (hydrophobicity, surface charge, and motility). For Dermacoccus sp. strain RO12 and Microbacterium sp. strain RO18, bacterial adhesion was facilitated by cell surface hydrophobicity, and for Rhodopseudomonas sp. strain RO3, adhesion was assisted by its low surface charge. Sphingomonas sp. strain RO2 possessed both twitching and swarming motilities, which could be important in mediating surface colonization. Further, strains RO2, RO3, and RO12 did not exhibit swimming motility, suggesting that they could be transported to RO membrane surfaces by other mechanisms such as convective permeate flow. The biofilm formation of RO2 was further tested on different RO membranes made of cellulose acetate, polyamide, and thin film composite in continuous flow cell systems. The resultant RO2 biofilms were independent of membrane surface properties and this was probably related to the exopolysaccharides secreted by the biofilm cells. These results suggested that RO2 could colonize RO membranes effectively and could be a potential fouling organism in RO membranes for freshwater purification.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Environmental Chemistry