The biology and molecular ecology of floating sulphur biofilms

by Bowker, M.L.

Abstract (Summary)
Floating sulphur biofilms have been observed to occur on sulphate-containing natural systems and waste stabilization ponds. It has been postulated that these biofilms form on the surface of the water because sulphate reducing bacteria present in the bottom layers of the water body reduce sulphate to sulphide which then diffuses upwards and is oxidized under the correct redox conditions to sulphur by sulphide oxidizing bacteria. Very little information exists on these complex floating systems and in order to study them further, model systems were designed.

The Baffle Reactor was successfully used to cultivate floating sulphur biofilms. Conditions within the reactor could be closely scrutinized in the laboratory and it was found that sulphate levels decreased, sulphide levels increased and that sulphur was produced over a period of 2 weeks. The success of this system led to it being scaled-up and currently a method to harvest sulphur from the biofilm is under development.

It is thought that biofilms are highly complex, heterogeneous structures with different bacteria distributed in different layers. Preliminary work suggested that bacteria were differentially distributed along nutrient and oxygen gradients within the biofilm. Biofilms are very thin structures and therefore difficult to study and Gradient systems were developed in an attempt to spatially separate the biofilm species into functional layers. Gradient Tubes were designed; these provided a gradient of high-sulphide, low oxygen conditions to high-oxygen, low-sulphide conditions. Bacteria were observed to grow in different layers of these systems. The Gradient Tubes could be sectioned and the chemical characteristics of each section as well as the species present could be determined. Silicon Tubular Bioreactors were also developed and these were very efficient at producing large amounts of sulphur under strictly controlled redox conditions.

Microscopy and molecular methods including the amplification of a section of Ribosomal Ribonucleic acid by Polymerase Chain Reaction were used in an attempt to characterize the populations present in these biofilm systems. Denaturing Gradient Gel Electrophoresis was used to create band profiles of the populations; individual bands were excised from the gels and sequenced. Identified species included Ectothiorhodospira sp., Dethiosulfovibrio russensis, Pseudomonas geniculata, Thiobacillus baregensis and Halothiobacillus kellyi.

Bibliographical Information:


School:Rhodes University

School Location:South Africa

Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:biochemistry microbiology biotechnology


Date of Publication:01/01/2002

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