Morphology and Size of Bacterial Colonies Control Anoxic Microenvironment Formation in Porous Media

Giulia Ceriotti*, Sergey M. Borisov, Jasmine S. Berg, Pietro De Anna

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Bacterial metabolisms using electron acceptors other than oxygen (e.g., methanogenesis and fermentation) largely contribute to element cycling and natural contaminant attenuation/mobilization, even in well-oxygenated porous environments, such as shallow aquifers. This paradox is commonly explained by the occurrence of small-scale anoxic microenvironments generated by the coupling of bacterial respiration and dissolved oxygen (O2) transport by pore water. Such microenvironments allow facultative anaerobic bacteria to proliferate in oxic environments. Microenvironment dynamics are still poorly understood due to the challenge of directly observing biomass and O2 distributions at the microscale within an opaque sediment matrix. To overcome these limitations, we integrated a microfluidic device with transparent O2 planar optical sensors to measure the temporal behavior of dissolved O2 concentrations and biomass distributions with time-lapse videomicroscopy. Our results reveal that bacterial colony morphology, which is highly variable in flowing porous systems, controls the formation of anoxic microenvironments. We rationalize our observations through a colony-scale Damköhler number comparing dissolved O2 diffusion and a bacterial O2 uptake rate. Our Damköhler number enables us to predict the pore space fraction occupied by anoxic microenvironments in our system for a given bacterial organization.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17471-17480
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number23
Publication statusPublished - 6 Dec 2022


  • anoxia
  • aquifer transport
  • heterogeneity
  • microfluidics
  • oxygen
  • planar sensors
  • porous media

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Environmental Chemistry


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