Biofilms in drinking water distribution systems (DWDS) could exacerbate the persistence and associated risks of pathogenic Legionella pneumophila (L. pneumophila), thus raising human health concerns. However, mechanisms controlling adhesion and subsequent detachment of L. pneumophila associated with biofilms remain unclear. We determined the connection between L. pneumophila adhesion and subsequent detachment with biofilm physical structure characterization using optical coherence tomography (OCT) imaging technique. Analysis of the OCT images of multispecies biofilms grown under low nutrient condition up to 34 weeks revealed the lack of biofilm deformation even when these biofilms were exposed to flow velocity of 0.7 m/s, typical flow for DWDS. L. pneumophila adhesion on these biofilm under low flow velocity (0.007 m/s) positively correlated with biofilm roughness due to enlarged biofilm surface area and local flow conditions created by roughness asperities. The preadhered L. pneumophila on selected rough and smooth biofilms were found to detach when these biofilms were subjected to higher flow velocity. At the flow velocity of 0.1 and 0.3 m/s, the ratio of detached cell from the smooth biofilm surface was from 1.3 to 1.4 times higher than that from the rough biofilm surface, presumably because of the low shear stress zones near roughness asperities. This study determined that physical structure and local hydrodynamics control adhesion and detachment from simulated drinking water biofilm, thus it is the first step toward reducing the risk of L. pneumophila exposure and subsequent infections.
Mechanical and structural properties of biofilms influence the accumulation and release of pathogens in drinking water distribution systems (DWDS). Thus, understanding how long-term residual disinfectants exposure affects biofilm mechanical and structural properties is a necessary aspect for pathogen risk assessment and control. In this study, elastic modulus and structure of groundwater biofilms was monitored by atomic force microscopy (AFM) and optical coherence tomography (OCT) during three months of exposure to monochloramine or free chlorine. After the first month of disinfectant exposure, the mean stiffness of monochloramine- or free-chlorine-treated biofilms was 4 to 9 times higher than those before treatment. Meanwhile, the biofilm thickness decreased from 120 ± 8 µm to 93 ± 6–107 ± 11 µm. The increased surface stiffness and decreased biofilm thickness within the first month of disinfectant exposure was presumably due to the consumption of biomass. However, by the second to third month during disinfectant exposure, the biofilm mean stiffness showed a 2- to 4-fold decrease, and the biofilm thickness increased to 110 ± 7–129 ± 8 µm suggesting that the biofilms adapted to disinfectant exposure. After three months of the disinfectant exposure process, the disinfected biofilms showed 2–5 times higher mean stiffness (as determined by AFM) and 6–13-fold higher ratios of protein over polysaccharide, as determined by differential staining and confocal laser scanning microscopy (CLSM), than the nondisinfected groundwater biofilms. However, the disinfected biofilms and nondisinfected biofilms showed statistically similar thicknesses (t test, p > 0.05), suggesting that long-term disinfection may not significantly remove net biomass. This study showed how biofilm mechanical and structural properties vary in response to a complex DWDS environment, which will contribute to further research on the risk assessment and control of biofilm-associated-pathogens in DWDS.
Legionella pneumophila, the most commonly identified causative agent in drinking water associated with disease outbreaks, can be harbored by and released from drinking water biofilms. In this study, the release of biofilm-associated L. pneumophila under simulated drinking water flow containing a disinfectant residual was examined. Meanwhile, the inactivation and infectivity (to amoebae) of the released L. pneumophila were studied. To simulate drinking water system conditions, biofilms were prepared under either disinfectant exposure (predisinfected biofilms) or disinfectant-free (untreated biofilms) conditions, respectively. For experiments with water flow containing a disinfectant to release the biofilm-associated L. pneumophila from these two types of biofilms, the L. pneumophila release kinetics values from predisinfected and untreated biofilms under flow condition were not statistically different (one-way ANOVA, p > 0.05). However, inactivation of the L. pneumophila released from predisinfected biofilms was 1-2 times higher and amoeba infectivity was 2-29 times lower than that from untreated biofilms. The higher disinfectant resistance of L. pneumophila released from untreated biofilms was presumably influenced by the detachment of a larger amount of biofilm material (determined by 16S rRNA qPCR) surrounding the released L. pneumophila. This study highlights the interaction among disinfectant residual, biofilms, and L. pneumophila, which provides guidelines to assess and control pathogen risk.
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