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Abstract

The efficiency of contaminant biodegradation in ground water depends, in part, on the transport properties of the degrading bacteria. Few data exist concerning the transport of bacteria in saturated bedrock, particularly at the field scale. Bacteria and microsphere tracer experiments were conducted in a fractured crystalline bedrock under forced-gradient conditions over a distance of 36 m. Bacteria isolated from the local ground water were chosen on the basis of physicochemical and physiological differences (shape, cell-wall type, motility), and were differentially stained so that their transport behavior could be compared. No two bacterial strains transported in an identical manner, and microspheres produced distinctly different breakthrough curves than bacteria. Although there was insufficient control in this field experiment to completely separate the effects of bacteria shape, reaction to Gram staining, cell size, and motility on transport efficiency, it was observed that (1) the nonmotile, mutant strain exhibited better fractional recovery than the motile parent strain; (2) Gram-negative rod-shaped bacteria exhibited higher fractional recovery relative to the Gram-positive rod-shaped strain of similar size; and (3) coccoidal (spherical-shaped) bacteria transported better than all but one strain of the rod-shaped bacteria. The field experiment must be interpreted in the context of the specific bacterial strains and ground water environment in which they were conducted, but experimental results suggest that minor differences in the physical properties of bacteria can lead to major differences in transport behavior at the field scale.