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Applied and Environmental Microbiology
Vol.
77, No. 13, 2011; Pages: 4390 - 4398

Composition and Variability of Biofouling Organisms in Seawater Reverse Osmosis Desalination Plants

Minglu Zhang, Sunny Jiang, Dian Tanuwidjaja, Nikolay Voutchkov, Eric M. V. Hoek and Baoli Cai

Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of California, Irvine, California 92697.

Abstract

Seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO) membrane biofouling remains a common challenge in the desalination industry, but the marine bacterial community that causes membrane fouling is poorly understood. Microbial communities at different stages of treatment processes (intake, cartridge filtration, and SWRO) of a desalination pilot plant were examined by both culture-based and culture-independent approaches. Bacterial isolates were identified to match the genera Shewanella, Alteromonas, Vibrio, and Cellulophaga based on 16S rRNA gene sequencing analysis. The 16S rRNA gene clone library of the SWRO membrane biofilm showed that a filamentous bacterium, Leucothrix mucor, which belongs to the gammaproteobacteria, accounted for nearly 30% of the clone library, while the rest of the microorganisms (61.2% of the total clones) were related to the alphaproteobacteria. 16S rRNA gene terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism (T-RFLP) analysis indicated that bacteria colonizing the SWRO membrane represented a subportion of microbes in the source seawater; however, they were quite different from those colonizing the cartridge filter. The examination of five SWRO membranes from desalination plants located in different parts of the world showed that although the bacterial communities from the membranes were not identical to each other, some dominant bacteria were commonly observed. In contrast, bacterial communities in source seawater were significantly different based on location and season. Microbial profiles from 14 cartridge filters collected from different plants also revealed spatial trends.

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