In situ microcosms in aquifer bioremediation studies

Raphi T. Mandelbaum, Miri Rietti Shati, Daniel Ronen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


The extent to which aquifer microbiota can be studied under laboratory or simulated conditions is limited by our inability to authentically duplicate natural conditions in the laboratory. Therefore, extrapolation of laboratory results to real aquifer situations is often criticized, unless validation of the data is performed in situ. Reliable data acquisition is critical for the estimation of chemical and biological reaction rates of biodegradation processes in groundwater and as input data for mathematical models. Typically, in situ geobiochemical studies relied on the injection of groundwater spiked with compounds or bacteria of interest into the aquifer, followed by monitoring the changes over time and space. In situ microcosms provide a more confined study site for measurements of microbial reactions, yet closer to natural conditions than laboratory microcosms. Two basic types of in situ aquifer microcosm have been described in recent years, and both originated from in situ instruments initially designed for geochemical measurements. Gillham et al. [Ground Water 28 (1990) 858-862] constructed an instrument that isolates a portion of an aquifer for in situ biochemical rate measurements. More recently Shati et al. [Environ. Sci. Technol. 30 (1996) 2646-2653] modified a multilayer sampler for studying the activity of inoculated bacteria in a contaminated aquifer. Keeping in mind recent advances in environmental microbiology methodologies such as immunofluorescence direct counts, oligonucleotide and PCR probes, fatty acid methyl esther analysis for the detection and characterization of bacterial communities, measurement of mRNA and expression of protein, it is evident that much new information can now be gained from in situ work. Using in situ microcosms to study bioremediation efficiencies, the fate of introduced microorganisms and general geobiochemical aquifer processes can shed more realistic light on the microbial underworld. The aim of this paper is to emphasize the importance of in situ studies and to describe two different concepts of construction and application of in situ microcosms for studying microbial activity in aquifers. The overall goal is to promote the development and utilization of these valuable and largely unexplored tools.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)489-502
Number of pages14
JournalFEMS Microbiology Reviews
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - 1 Jul 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • Aquifer
  • Bioremediation
  • Groundwater
  • In situ biodegradation
  • In situ microcosm

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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