Quorum quenching bacteria can be used to inhibit the biofouling of reverse osmosis membranes

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Water Research, 2017, 112 pp. 29 - 37
Issue Date:
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© 2017 Elsevier Ltd Over the last few decades, significant efforts have concentrated on mitigating biofouling in reverse osmosis (RO) systems, with a focus on non-toxic and sustainable strategies. Here, we explored the potential of applying quorum quenching (QQ) bacteria to control biofouling in a laboratory-scale RO system. For these experiments, Pantoea stewartii was used as a model biofilm forming organism because it was previously shown to be a relevant wastewater isolate that also forms biofilms in a quorum sensing (QS) dependent fashion. A recombinant Escherichia coli strain, which can produce a QQ enzyme, was first tested in batch biofilm assays and significantly reduced biofilm formation by P. stewartii. Subsequently, RO membranes were fouled with P. stewartii and the QQ bacterium was introduced into the RO system using two different strategies, direct injection and immobilization within a cartridge microfilter. When the QQ bacterial cells were directly injected into the system, N-acylhomoserine lactone signals were degraded, resulting in the reduction of biofouling. Similarly, the QQ bacteria controlled biofouling when immobilized within a microfilter placed downstream of the RO module to remove QS signals circulating in the system. These results demonstrate the proof-of-principle that QQ can be applied to control biofouling of RO membranes and may be applicable for use in full-scale plants.
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