"Environment" research area

A Strategy to Overcome Biofilm Plugging of Bioreactors

Primary Investigator - Mikael EliasPrimary Investigator: Mikael Elias
Co-Investigators: Gary Feyereisen
Industry PartnersUSDA-ARS
Award Type: Seed Grant - Undergraduate Research Scholar

Problem: In an effort to improve water quality both locally and nationally (i.e. the Gulf of Mexico), the State of Minnesota set a goal of 20% nitrogen and phosphorus load reduction in all waterways by 2025. The use of woodchip bioreactors that denitrify water as it flows through the system has proven beneficial in reducing the nitrogen load in localized areas. However, microbial communities living within the bioreactor media cause formation of biofilms, which plug the system and adversely affect performance.

Solution: Biofilms form naturally as microbes communicate with each other using a technique called “quorum sensing”. Previous work by the Elias Lab has demonstrated how engineered enzymes are capable of inhibiting biofilm formation by breaking down the specific molecules that microbes use to communicate via quorum sensing. The research proposed here will investigate whether these engineered enzymes are effective at blocking biofilm formation that specifically occurs in denitrifying woodchip bioreactors.  

Impact: Denitrifying woodchip bioreactors can effectively reduce nutrient loads surpassing Minnesota’s goal for 2025, if significant biofilm plugging is absent from the system. Therefore, solving the biofilm clogging issue is an important step in developing and confirming this treatment as a viable solution for agricultural nutrient management.