Biological control of biofilms on membranes by metazoans

Theresa Klein, David Zihlmann, Nicolas Derlon, Carl Isaacson, Ilona Szivak, David G. Weissbrodt, Wouter Pronk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

47 Citations (Scopus)


Traditionally, chemical and physical methods have been used to control biofouling on membranes by inactivating and removing the biofouling layer. Alternatively, the permeability can be increased using biological methods while accepting the presence of the biofouling layer. We have investigated two different types of metazoans for this purpose, the oligochaete Aelosoma hemprichi and the nematode Plectus aquatilis. The addition of these grazing metazoans in biofilm-controlled membrane systems resulted in a flux increase of 50% in presence of the oligochaetes (Aelosoma hemprichi), and a flux increase of 119-164% in presence of the nematodes (Plectus aquatilis) in comparison to the control system operated without metazoans. The change in flux resulted from (1) a change in the biofilm structure, from a homogeneous, cake-like biofilm to a more heterogeneous, porous structure and (2) a significant reduction in the thickness of the basal layer. Pyrosequencing data showed that due to the addition of the predators, also the community composition of the biofilm in terms of protists and bacteria was strongly affected. The results have implications for a range of membrane processes, including ultrafiltration for potable water production, membrane bioreactors and reverse osmosis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)20-29
Number of pages10
JournalWater Research
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Basal layer
  • Biofouling
  • Biological control
  • Flux increase
  • Gravity driven membrane
  • Nematodes
  • Oligochaetes


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