Window on a microworld: Simple microfluidic systems for studying microbial transport in porous media

Dmitry A. Markov, Philip C. Samson, David K. Schaffer, Adit Dhummakupt, John P. Wikswo, Leslie M. Shor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Microbial growth and transport in porous media have important implications for the quality of groundwater and surface water, the recycling of nutrients in the environment, as well as directly for the transmission of pathogens to drinking water supplies. Natural porous media is composed of an intricate physical topology, varied surface chemistries, dynamic gradients of nutrients and electron acceptors, and a patchy distribution of microbes. These features vary substantially over a length scale of microns, making the results of macro-scale investigations of microbial transport difficult to interpret, and the validation of mechanistic models challenging. Here we demonstrate how simple microfluidic devices can be used to visualize microbial interactions with micro-structured habitats, to identify key processes influencing the observed phenomena, and to systematically validate predictive models. Simple, easy-to-use flow cells were constructed out of the transparent, biocompatible and oxygen-permeable material poly(dimethyl siloxane). Standard methods of photolithography were used to make micro-structured masters, and replica molding was used to cast micro-structured flow cells from the masters. The physical design of the flow cell chamber is adaptable to the experimental requirements: microchannels can vary from simple linear connections to complex topologies with feature sizes as small as 2 μm. Our modular EcoChip flow cell array features dozens of identical chambers and flow control by a gravity-driven flow module. We demonstrate that through use of EcoChip devices, physical structures and pressure heads can be held constant or varied systematically while the influence of surface chemistry, fluid properties, or the characteristics of the microbial population is investigated. Through transport experiments using a non-pathogenic, green fluorescent protein-expressingVibriobacterial strain, we illustrate the importance of habitat structure, flow conditions, and inoculums size on fundamental transport phenomena, and with real-time particle-scale observations, demonstrate that microfluidics offer a compelling view of a hidden world.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1741
JournalJournal of Visualized Experiments
Issue number39
DOIs
StatePublished - May 2010
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Artificial habitat
  • Bacterial transport
  • Biofilm
  • Colloid
  • Filtration theory
  • GFP
  • Issue 39
  • Microbiology
  • Microfluidic device
  • Micromodel
  • PDMS
  • Porous media

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Chemical Engineering(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)

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