Microbial community analysis of fouled reverse osmosis membranes used in water recycling

C. Ayache, Carmem Lara De O Manes, Marc Pidou, Jean-Philippe Croue, Wolfgang Gernjak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations


Biofouling on RO membranes has major cost implications in water reclamation. In this study membranes and water samples were collected from a RO pilot-plant operated on two sites to study the differences in microbial communities in order to develop a better understanding of the biofouling. For the two sites studied, the examination of the front membrane of the first stage and the tail membrane of the second stage of the RO train using 16S rRNA gene-based molecular technique showed that bacteria were similar on both stages and no significant effect of the membrane location within the RO train on the biofilm development could be discerned. However, the comparison of the identified bacteria from membrane samples between the two sites showed that each site is specific, leading to a different composition of microbial communities. The different nutrient concentrations in the RO feed water due to the different biological pre-treatments are one potential explanation for the observed differences in the microbial communities. Seasonal variations also play a major role in the development of microbial communities as shown by the significant differences observed between the communities measured in the samples in winter and summer on the second site. The results did not show similarity between the species identified on the RO membranes and in the feed water. Hence, the relationship of microbial community between the water generated during the pre-treatment process and RO membranes is not obvious. From this study, results showed that there is an actual need to investigate the development of microbial communities on membrane surface in real conditions in order to suggest tailored solutions for biofouling control and removal. © 2013 Elsevier Ltd.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3291-3299
Number of pages9
JournalWater Research
Issue number10
StatePublished - Jun 2013

Bibliographical note

KAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2020-10-01
Acknowledgements: The authors want to acknowledge Veolia Environnement Research & Innovation and Seqwater for funding received through the joint "Water Recycling Research Program" with The University of Queensland as well as the Australian Government Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education for funding obtained through the FAST program (FR10025). The authors also would like to acknowledge Unitywater and Allconnex Water for their support by hosting the pilot-trials.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Pollution
  • Ecological Modeling
  • Waste Management and Disposal


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