The environmental chemodynamics of hydrophobic organic chemicals (HOCs) are often rate-limited by diffusion in stagnant boundary layers. This study investigated whether motile microorganisms can act as microbial carriers that enhance mass transfer of HOCs through diffusive boundary layers. A new experimental system was developed that allows (1) generation of concentration gradients of HOCs under the microscope, (2) exposure and direct observation of microorganisms in such gradients, and (3) quantification of HOC mass transfer. Silicone O-rings were integrated into a Dunn chemotaxis chamber to serve as sink and source for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). This resulted in stable concentration gradients in water (>24 h). Adding the model organism Tetrahymena pyriformis to the experimental system enhanced PAH mass transfer up to hundred-fold (benzo[a]pyrene). Increasing mass transfer enhancement with hydrophobicity indicated PAH co-transport with the motile organisms. Fluorescence microscopy confirmed such transport. The effective diffusivity of T. pyriformis, determined by video imaging microscopy, was found to exceed molecular diffusivities of the PAHs up to four-fold. Cell-bound PAH fractions were determined to range from 28% (naphthalene) to 92% (pyrene). Motile microorganisms can therefore function as effective carriers for HOCs under diffusive conditions and might significantly enhance mobility and availability of HOCs.
Environmental Science and Technology (washington), 2014, Vol 48, Issue 8, p. 4368-4375