A Pure Life: The Microbial Ecology of High Purity Industrial Waters


The microbial ecology of various natural environments has been an active area of research since the earlier part of the twentieth century. Remote and sometimes extreme environments such as the deep ocean and the deep terrestrial subsurface have revealed a remarkable array of microorganisms. The majority of these environments are nutrient limited, and microorganisms—principally, bacteria—have developed a number of survival strategies that enable their survival and, in some cases, replication. While planktonic microorganisms exist in oligotrophic environments, the predominant mode of survival and growth is associated with biofilms. There are a number of similarities between the physicochemistry of industrial water systems and some natural aquatic ecosystems, and these similarities extend to the microbial populations and the survival mechanisms that are employed. The “starvation-survival” mechanisms, including biofilm formation, may be associated with deleterious effects on industrial water systems. These effects include heat transfer inhibition, microbially influenced corrosion, and contamination of various products manufactured in a wide array of industries. Biological fouling of industrial water systems has significant direct and indirect (through antimicrobial chemical applications) impacts on engineered materials and on the etiology of some waterborne diseases. This review provides an overview of the microbial ecology of purified waters and discusses the impacts of biological activity on industrial systems.

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This minireview is dedicated to Professor Ralph Mitchell, a mentor and friend to many colleagues.

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Correspondence to M. W. Mittelman.

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Mittelman, M.W., Jones, A.D.G. A Pure Life: The Microbial Ecology of High Purity Industrial Waters. Microb Ecol 76, 9–18 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00248-016-0736-6

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  • Biofilm
  • Bacteria
  • Industrial water systems
  • Oligotrophs
  • VBNC