From farm-scale to lab-scale: The characterization of engineered irrigation water distribution system biofilm models using an artificial freshwater source

Sci Total Environ. 2020 Jan 1;698:134025. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.134025. Epub 2019 Aug 31.


Contaminants in freshwater environments, as well as the associated negative impacts on agricultural produce, have emerged as a critical theme of the water-energy-food nexus affecting food safety and irrigation management. Agricultural produce exposed to irrigation with questionable freshwater can internalize and concentrate pollutants. However, the potential risks posed by the ubiquitous presence of biofilms within irrigation water distribution systems (IWDS) remains overlooked, even though such biofilms may harbor and spread pathogenic, chemical, and other environmental pollutants. Our limited knowledge about the role and functional attributes of IWDS biofilms can be blamed mostly to experimental challenges encountered during attempted studies of these biofilms in their natural environments. Hence, a laboratory-based experimental system designed to simulate a freshwater environment was combined with a biofilm reactor capable of recreating the piping environments in water distribution systems. This experimental system was then tested to assess the robustness and repeatability of experimental early-stage biofilms with respect to physical structure and microbial community, using state-of-the-art confocal microscopy and next-generation sequencing, respectively. The results demonstrated the suitability of this laboratory-based experimental system for studying the impacts of selected pollutants on irrigation water distribution systems.

Keywords: 16S metagenomics; Annular biofilm reactor; Biofilm structural and microbial dynamics; Confocal laser scanning microscopy; Irrigation water distribution system; Laboratory-based simulated freshwater source.

MeSH terms

  • Agricultural Irrigation / methods*
  • Biofilms
  • Farms
  • Fresh Water
  • Water Microbiology
  • Water Quality