New method using growth dynamics to quantify microbial contamination of kaolinite slurries

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Clays and Clay Minerals


The early and sensitive detection of microbial contamination of kaolinite slurries is needed for timely treatment to prevent spoilage. The sensitivity, reproducibility, and time required by current methods, such as the dip-slide method, do not meet this challenge. A more sensitive, reproducible, and efficient method is required. The objective of the present study was to develop and validate such a method. The new method is based on the measured growth kinetics of indigenous kaolinite-slurry microorganisms. The microorganisms from kaolinite slurries with different contamination levels were eluted and quantified as colony-forming units (CFUs). Known quantities of E. coli (ATCC 11775) were inoculated into sterilized kaolinite slurries to relate kaolinite-slurry CFUs to true microbial concentrations. The inoculated slurries were subsequently incubated, re-extracted, and microbial concentrations quantified. The ratio of the known inoculated E. coli concentration to the measured concentration was expressed as the recovery efficiency coefficient. Indigenous microbial communities were serially diluted, incubated, and the growth kinetics measured and related to CFUs. Using the new method, greater optical densities (OD) and visible microbial growth were measured for greater dilutions of kaolinite slurries with large microbial-cell concentrations. Growth conditions were optimized to maximize the correlation between contamination level, microbial growth kinetics, and OD value. A Standard Bacterial Unit (SBU) scale with five levels of microbial contamination was designed for kaolinite slurries using the experimental results. The SBU scale was validated using a blind test of 50 unknown slurry samples with various contamination levels provided by the Imerys Company. The validation tests revealed that the new method using the SBU scale was more time efficient, sensitive, and reproducible than the dip-slide method.


Biological and Environmental Sciences

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