Optically transparent porous medium for nondestructive studies of microbial biofilm architecture and transport dynamics.
We describe a novel and noninvasive, microscopy-based method for visualizing the structure and dynamics of microbial biofilms, individual fluorescent microbial cells, and inorg. colloids within a model porous medium. Biofilms growing in flow cells packed with granules of an amorphous fluoropolymer could be visualized as a consequence of refractive index matching between the solid fluoropolymer grains and the aq. immersion medium. In conjunction with the capabilities of confocal microscopy for nondestructive optical sectioning, the use of amorphous fluoropolymers as a solid matrix permits observation of organisms and dynamic processes to a depth of 2 to 3 mm, whereas sediment biofilms growing in sand-filled flow cells can only be visualized in the region adjacent to the flow cell wall. This method differs fundamentally from other refractive index-matching applications in that optical transparency was achieved by matching a solid phase to water (and not vice versa), thereby permitting real-time microscopic studies of particulate-contg., low-refractive-index media such as biol. and chromatog. systems.
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