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Biotechnol Bioeng. 1998 Mar 5;57(5):536-44.

Oscillation characteristics of biofilm streamers in turbulent flowing water as related to drag and pressure drop.

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Environmental Microbiology Research Group, University of Exeter, Department of Biological Sciences, Hatherly Laboratories, Exeter, Devon EX4 4PS, United


Mixed population biofilms consisting of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, P. fluorescens, and Klebsiella pneumoniae were grown in a flow cell under turbulent conditions with a water flow velocity of 18 cm/s (Reynolds number, Re, =1192). After 7 days the biofilms were patchy and consisted of cell clusters and streamers (filamentous structures attached to the downstream edge of the clusters) separated by interstitial channels. The cell clusters ranged in size from 25 to 750 microm in diameter. The largest clusters were approximately 85 microm thick. The streamers, which were up to 3 mm long, oscillated laterally in the flow. The motion of the streamers was recorded at various flow velocities up to 50.5 cm/s (Re 3351) using confocal scanning laser microscopy. The resulting time traces were evaluated by image analysis and fast Fourier transform analysis (FFT). The amplitude of the motion increased with flow velocity in a sigmoidal shaped curve, reaching a plateau at an average fluid flow velocity of approximately 25 cm/s (Re 1656). The motion of the streamers was possibly limited by the flexibility of the biofilm material. FFT indicated that the frequency of oscillation was directly proportional to the average flow velocity (u(ave)) below 9.5 cm/s (Re 629). At u(ave) greater than 9.5 cm/s, oscillation frequencies were above our measurable frequency range (0.12-6.7 Hz). The oscillation frequency was related to the flow velocity by the Strouhal relationship, suggesting that the oscillations were possibly caused by vortex shedding from the upstream biofilm clusters. A loss coefficient (k) was used to assess the influence of biofilm accumulation on pressure drop. The k across the flow cell colonized with biofilm was 2.2 times greater than the k across a clean flow cell.

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