THWRC Awarded Proposal 513UTA0037H

Project number:          513UTA0037H

Title:                            Innovating on Well Fouling Bioremediation - A Phage Cocktail Approach

Lead PI:                       Mary Jo Kirisits

Awarded amount:      $43,178


Project Abstract

            Well biofouling occurs when biofilms and microbial induced precipitates form within groundwater supply wells, causing declines in well yield, corrosion, and deterioration of water quality. Wells containing high concentrations of ferrous iron (Fe2+) are particularly susceptible to biofouling since iron-oxidizing bacteria (IOB) cause iron precipitation. Conventional physical/chemical techniques for well reconditioning are often costly, temporary solutions. However, the use of bacteriophage (viruses that can infect and cause the lysis of bacteria) remains a largely unexplored means of preventing or remediating biofilms in supply wells. 

The overall objective of the proposed work is to gain a fundamental understanding of whether phage therapy will be an effective way to remediate biofouling in water supply wells. To meet this objective, the proposed research will be conducted in three phases.  In Phase 1, we will interrogate biofilm samples from two biofouled groundwater supply wells to delineate the microbial community and quantify the active iron-oxidizing populations (which are likely to dominate in the biofilms); pyrosequencing and real-time PCR [qPCR] will be used for these analyses. In Phase 2, we will isolate dominant bacteria from the overall microbial community and bacteriophage capable of infecting and lysing those bacterial isolates. In Phase 3, we will investigate the treatment efficacy of using a “phage cocktail” (a mixture of bacteriophage that target dominant populations in the biofilm community) with and without accompanying chemical treatment to eliminate mixed-species bacterial communities in bench-scale bioreactors. 

Our fundamental data set will show whether biofouled groundwater supply wells with elevated concentrations of Fe2+ and IOB presents a promising application for bacteriophage therapy. Large water supply limitations and expenses could be overcome for many water suppliers in Texas and elsewhere if a more successful well remediation scheme is developed.

The two-year project (9/2013-7/2015) will capitalize on the team’s expertise in biological water treatment research and associated molecular and microbial methods.