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Bacterial migration in porous media: new statistical physics with implications for soil bioremediation and microbial ecology

Thursday 14th August 2014 - 14:00 to 15:00
INI Seminar Room 2
Many bacteria swim chemotactically: they are biased by chemical gradients. The importance of chemotaxis in microbial ecology is appreciated but not widely quantitated. Chemotaxis is also thought to be important in bioremediation, where it is thought to increase pollutant bioavailability. Academic chemotaxis studies focus on single bacterial species whose chemotaxis in liquid is reasonably well understood. Its study in porous media, however, has recently revealed unexpected surprises. Engineering bioremediation models describe chemotactic bacteria migrating in porous media as if they are gas particles in an external field. This description, mapping onto ordinary statistical physics (with detailed balance), fails to describe the migration of E. coli bacteria in agar (which is a porous gel). I will describe these experiments and outline the new transport theory (without detailed balance) we develope. This qualitatively accounts for observed phenomenology. I will then describe new experiments we have carried out comparing the migration of E. coli in agar with that of the soil bioremediation species Pseudomonas putida. To conclude, I will briefly connect the work to microbial ecology, and in particular algal-bacterial symbioses.
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University of Cambridge Research Councils UK
    Clay Mathematics Institute London Mathematical Society NM Rothschild and Sons