Predation creates unique void layer in membrane-aerated biofilms

M. Aybar, P. Perez-Calleja, M. Li, J. P. Pavissich, R. Nerenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


The membrane-aerated biofilm reactor (MABR) is a novel wastewater treatment technology based on oxygen-supplying membranes. The counter diffusion of oxygen and electron donors in MABRs leads to unique behavior, and we hypothesized it also could impact predation. We used optical coherence tomography (OCT), microsensor analyses, and mathematical modeling to investigate predation in membrane-aerated biofilms (MABs). When protozoa were excluded from the inoculum, the MAB's OCT-observable void fraction was around 5%. When protozoa were included, the void fraction grew to nearly 50%, with large, continuous voids at the base of the biofilm. Real-time OCT imaging showed highly motile protozoa in the voids. MABs with protozoa and a high bulk COD (270 mg/L) only had 4% void fraction. DNA sequencing revealed a high relative abundance of amoeba in both high and low-COD MABs. Flagellates were only abundant in the low-COD MAB. Modeling also suggested a relationship between substrate concentrations, diffusion mode (co- or counter-diffusion), and biofilm void fraction. Results suggest that amoeba proliferate in the biofilm interior, especially in the aerobic zones. Voids form once COD limitation at the base of MABs allows predation rates to exceed microbial growth rates. Once formed, the voids provide a niche for motile protozoa, which expand the voids into a large, continuous gap. This increases the potential for biofilm sloughing, and may have detrimental effects on slow-growing, aerobic microorganisms such as nitrifying bacteria.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)232-242
Number of pages11
JournalWater Research
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Biofilm
  • MABR
  • Porosity
  • Predation
  • Protozoa
  • Voids


Dive into the research topics of 'Predation creates unique void layer in membrane-aerated biofilms'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this