Microscopic observations of multispecies biofilm of different structures on whey concentration membranes



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Journal of Dairy Science








The objective of this study was to evaluate biofilm formation on polyamide reverse osmosis (RO) whey concentration membranes. Biofilms were observed with scanning electron and fluorescence microscopy. For scanning electron microscopy, pieces of 6-, 12-, and 14-mo-old membranes were allowed to air dry at room temperature (22°C) for 24 h followed by sputter coating with a 5-nm layer of gold and microscopic observations. Scanning electron microscopy images revealed that the hydrophilic layer, used to prevent membrane plugging, was not evenly distributed on the surface. Although this hydrophilic layer seemed to prevent the attachment of proteins, it supported biofilm formation. Three different structures of multispecies biofilm were observed on the retentate side of the membrane: 1) a mono layer, 2) a 3-dimensional structure of a dense matrix of extracellular polymeric substances where different types of bacterial cells were embedded, and 3) cell aggregates. In some of the biofilms, a smooth layer (shell) covered cell aggregates. In the 6-mo-old membranes, part of the shell layer was broken off. Biofilms as observed on the RO membrane were described as having a hill-and-valley type of structure, with hills showing a mushroom-like appearance and valleys comprising dense matrices of extracellular polymers with embedded bacterial cells. Fluorescence microscopy showed live cells on the surface of the biofilm. It is concluded that both cells in the deep layers of biofilm and surface cells may resist cleaning and sanitation. The extent of biofilm formation and the presence of live cells on RO membranes after regular clean in place cycles indicate the need for a more effective cleaning regimen customized for dairy separation systems.