Physiology and genetic traits of reverse osmosis membrane biofilms: A case study with Pseudomonas aeruginosa

Moshe Herzberg, Menachem Elimelech

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

92 Scopus citations


Biofilm formation of Pseudomonas aeruginosa on the surface of a reverse osmosis (RO) membrane was studied using a synthetic wastewater medium to simulate conditions relevant to reclamation of secondary wastewater effluent. P. aeruginosa biofilm physiology and spatial activity were analyzed following growth on the membrane using a short-life green fluorescent protein derivative expressed in a growth-dependent manner. As a consequence of the limiting carbon source prevailing in the suspended culture of the RO unit, a higher distribution of active cells was observed in the biofilm close to the membrane surface, likely due to the higher nutrient levels induced by concentration polarization effects. The faster growth of the RO-sessile cells compared to the planktonic cells in the RO unit was reflected by the transcriptome of the two cultures analyzed with DNA microarrays. In contrast to the findings recently reported in gene expression studies of P. aeruginosa biofilms, in the RO system, genes related to stress, adaptation, chemotaxis and resistance to antibacterial agents were induced in the planktonic cells. In agreement with the findings of previous P. aeruginosa biofilm studies, motility- and attachment-related genes were repressed in the RO P. aeruginosa biofilm. Supported by the microarray data, an increase in both motility and chemotaxis phenotypes was observed in the suspended cells. The increase in nutrient concentration in close proximity to the membrane is suggested to enhance biofouling by chemotaxis response of the suspended cells and their swimming toward the membrane surface.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)180-194
Number of pages15
JournalISME Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2008


  • Biofilms
  • Biofouling
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa
  • Reverse osmosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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