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In-field Bioreactor Technology

Real-time community data without; large-scale interference of sampling, media, lab conditions, and sample damage in transport.

Environmental research, especially from environments like groundwater where still much is unknown, is often subject to bias from in-lab experiments. As scientists we sometimes induce intentional bias such as adding excess nutrients, or aeration to jumpstart growth. Sometimes however, our errors and bias are unintentional such as contamination, or improper conditions. This new technology, developed in the lab of Dwayne Elias at the University of Tennessee and the Oakridge National Laboratory, is a true game changer for every single Systematics Biologists.

The In-field bioreactor allows for the study of arguably one of the most debated and mis-understood aspects of studying in situ microbial ecology. It allows for the determination of the potential relationships that exist between both temporal environmental fluctuations such as flow, redox, pH, nutrients, and other related geochemical changes, and the microbial community structure. This device allows for a link to be drawn between microbial community biodiversity, structure, function, and biotransformation capabilities in relation to contaminant introduction. Although, microorganisms are linked to ecosystem health, affect local groundwater geochemistry, and contaminant fate, it is difficult to determine the link given the complexity of microbial communities and their ubiquitous responses to specific perturbations. However, in order to determine this relationship and remedy this shortcoming it is important to test microbial communities temporally. Traditional methods include long expensive push-pull tests, or detailed systematic samplings over several days. However, each of these have their limitations, causing groundwater disturbances, and using pumps which may inaccurately bias samples by pulling in surrounding water or surrounding microbial communities. Pumping also may cause community disturbance within the bedrock, and negatively influence subsequent pumping at the same location. Therefore, developing temporal methods with minimal outside influence, and groundwater disturbance is ideal to determine the linkages between functionality, biodiversity, and geochemistry.

How it works. By using a slow, long-term continuous inflow of groundwater, the in-field bioreactor simulates groundwater conditions. It has an adjustable headspace gas which can be filled with CO2, O2, or atmospheric gas depending on the intended conditions. It has a function for stirring to be applied to the planktonic region, and is also in a climate controlled enclosure, with climate controlled in-flow. The outflow is filtered to collect community samples which can be used for metagenomics, transcriptomics, metabolomics, or proteomics. Allowing for complete collection of both temporal and spacial data.

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