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Characterizing Microbial Biofilms in NASA Water Recovery Systems using Micromechanical Tools

PI: James Wilking, Montana State University
Awarded from 2014

Bacterial biofilms are multicellular communities of bacteria that form on nearly all surfaces. They consist of bacteria embedded in a soft matrix composed of proteins, polysaccharides, nucleic acids, and small molecules. Researchers at NASA in the Water Recovery Systems team are currently developing next generation water recovery systems that use multispecies biofilms in biological water processors (BWP) to treat waste water; however, these biofilms are implicated in a variety of problems including detachment from the bioreactor membrane and clogging elsewhere in the water treatment system. Without knowledge of the mechanical properties of these biofilms, the technology cannot advance. The principle research objective of this proposal is to use micromechanical tools such as thermally driven microrheology and actively driven magnetic microrheology to characterize the mechanical properties of microbial biofilms that form in water recovery systems developed for human exploration at NASA. To accomplish this goal, we will first optimize these well-established techniques for use with biofilms. Secondly, we will use these techniques to map local mechanical properties of the microbial biofilms present in NASA’s BWP. These initial studies will provide a foundation for a continued collaboration with the Water Recovery Systems team, will provide the necessary preliminary data to seek additional funding, and will help NASA advance their water treatment technology to be used in human exploration.

Contact Info

Mail James Wilking
Center for Biofilm Engineering
Montana State University
Bozeman, MT 59717
E-mail: James Wilking
Phone: (406) 994-6129
Fax: (406) 994-5308
Website: None
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