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Biofouling. 2012;28(9):969-84. doi: 10.1080/08927014.2012.724679.

Biofouling of reverse osmosis membranes used in river water purification for drinking purposes: analysis of microbial populations.

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  • 1Department of Biology, Unit of Protistology-Zoology, University of Pisa, Via Volta 4/6, Pisa, 56126, Italy.


Biofouling in water treatment processes represents one of the most frequent causes of plant performance decline. Investigation of clogged membranes (reverse osmosis membranes, microfiltration membranes and ultrafiltration membranes) is generally performed on fresh membranes. In the present study, a multidisciplinary autopsy of a reverse osmosis membrane (ROM) was conducted. The membrane, which was used in sulfate-rich river water purification for drinking purposes, had become inoperative after 6 months because of biofouling and was later stored for 18 months in dry conditions before analysis. SSU rRNA gene library construction, clone sequencing, T-RFLP, light microscope, and scanning electron microscope (SEM) observations were used to identify the microorganisms present on the membrane and possibly responsible for biofouling at the time of removal. The microorganisms were mainly represented by bacteria belonging to the phylum Actinobacteria and by a single protozoan species belonging to the Lobosea group. The microbiological analysis was interpreted in the context of the treatment plant operations to hypothesize as to the possible mechanisms used by microorganisms to enter the plant and colonize the ROM surface.

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