American Chemical Society
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Polymer Surface Dissection for Correlated Microscopic and Compositional Analysis of Bacterial Aggregates during Membrane Biofouling

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journal contribution
posted on 2021-12-17, 16:07 authored by Mohammadali Masigol, Esther L. Radaha, Arvind D. Kannan, Abigail G. Salberg, Niloufar Fattahi, Prathap Parameswaran, Ryan R. Hansen
Multispecies biofilms are a common limitation in membrane bioreactors, causing membrane clogging, degradation, and failure. There is a poor understanding of biological fouling mechanisms in these systems due to the limited number of experimental techniques useful for probing microbial interactions at the membrane interface. Here, we develop a new experimental method, termed polymer surface dissection (PSD), to investigate multispecies assembly processes over membrane surfaces. The PSD method uses photodegradable polyethylene glycol hydrogels functionalized with bioaffinity ligands to bind and detach microscale, microbial aggregates from the membrane for microscopic observation. Subsequent exposure of the hydrogel to high resolution, patterned UV light allows for controlled release of any selected aggregate of desired size at high purity for DNA extraction. Follow-up 16S community analysis reveals aggregate composition, correlating microscopic images with the bacterial community structure. The optimized approach can isolate aggregates with microscale spatial precision and yields genomic DNA at sufficient quantity and quality for sequencing from aggregates with areas as low as 2000 μm2, without the need of culturing for sample enrichment. To demonstrate the value of the approach, PSD was used to reveal the composition of microscale aggregates of different sizes during early-stage biofouling of aerobic wastewater communities over PVDF membranes. Larger aggregates exhibited lower diversity of bacterial communities, and a shift in the community structure was found as aggregate size increased to areas between 25,000 and 45,000 μm2, below which aggregates were more enriched in Bacteroidetes and above which aggregates were more enriched with Proteobacteria. The findings demonstrate that community succession can be observed within microscale aggregates and that the PSD method is useful for identification and characterization of early colonizing bacteria that drive biofouling on membrane surfaces.