In recent years, DNA-tagged silica colloids have been used as an environmental tracer. A major advantage of this technique is that the DNA-coding provides an unlimited number of unique tracers without a background concentration. However, little is known about the effects of physio-chemical subsurface properties on the transport behavior of DNA-tagged silica tracers. We are the first to explore the deposition kinetics of this new DNA-tagged silica tracer for different pore water chemistries, flow rates, and sand grain size distributions in a series of saturated sand column experiments in order to predict environmental conditions for which the DNA-tagged silica tracer can best be employed. Our results indicated that the transport of DNA-tagged silica tracer can be well described by first order kinetic attachment and detachment. Because of massive re-entrainment under transient chemistry conditions, we inferred that attachment was primarily in the secondary energy minimum. Based on calculated sticking efficiencies of the DNA-tagged silica tracer to the sand grains, we concluded that a large fraction of the DNA-tagged silica tracer colliding with the sand grain surface did also stick to that surface, when the ionic strength of the system was higher. The experimental results revealed the sensitivity of DNA-tagged silica tracer to both physical and chemical factors. This reduces its applicability as a conservative hydrological tracer for studying subsurface flow paths. Based on our experiments, the DNA-tagged silica tracer is best applicable for studying flow routes and travel times in coarse grained aquifers, with a relatively high flow rate. DNA-tagged silica tracers may also be applied for simulating the transport of engineered or biological colloidal pollution, such as microplastics and pathogens.
- DNA-tagged silica colloids
- Solution chemistry