Biofilm formation on reverse osmosis membranes is initiated and dominated by Sphingomonas spp

L.A. Bereschenko, A.J.M. Stams, G.J.W. Euverink, M.C.M. Loosdrecht

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The initial formation and spatiotemporal development of microbial biofilm layers on surfaces of new and clean reverse osmosis (RO) membranes and feed-side spacers were monitored in situ using flow cells placed in parallel with the RO system of a full-scale water treatment plant. The feed water of the RO system had been treated by the sequential application of coagulation, flocculation, sand filtration, ultrafiltration, and cartridge filtration processes. The design of the flow cells permitted the production of permeate under cross-flow conditions similar to those in spiral-wound RO membrane elements of the full-scale system. Membrane autopsies were done after 4, 8, 16, and 32 days of flow-cell operation. A combination of molecular (fluorescence in situ hybridization [FISH], denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis [DGGE], and cloning) and microscopic (field emission scanning electron, epifluorescence, and confocal laser scanning microscopy) techniques was applied to analyze the abundance, composition, architecture, and three-dimensional structure of biofilm communities. The results of the study point out the unique role of Sphingomonas spp. in the initial formation and subsequent maturation of biofilms on the RO membrane and feed-side spacer surfaces
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2623-2632
JournalApplied and Environmental Microbiology
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2010


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  • bacteria
  • identification
  • adhesion
  • ultramicrobacterium
  • polysaccharides
  • hybridization


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