An investigation of the sensitivity of low-field nuclear magnetic resonance to microbial growth and activity

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Chi Zhang and Kristina Keating, Rutgers University Newark, Newark, NJ, United States
Microbes and microbial processes play a significant role in shaping subsurface environments and are involved in applications ranging from microbially enhanced oil recovery to soil and groundwater contaminant remediation. Stimulated microbial growth in such applications could cause wide variety of changes of physical/chemical properties in the subsurface; however, due to the complexity of subsurface systems,it is difficult to monitor the growth of microbes and microbial activity in porous media. The focus of this research is to determine if low-field nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), a method used in well logging to characterize fluids in hydrocarbon reservoirs or water in aquifers, can be used to directly detect the presence and the growth of microbes in geologic media.

In this laboratory study, low-field NMR (2 MHz) relaxation measurements were collected on microbial suspensions with measured densities (i.e. biomasses), microbial pellets (live and dead), and inoculated silica. We focus on the direct contribution of microbes to the NMR signals in the absence of biomineralization. Shewanella oneidensis (MR-1), a facultative metal reducer known to play an important role in subsurface environments, were used as a model organism and were inoculated under aerobic condition. Data were collected using a CPMG pulse sequence, which was to determine the T2-distribution, and using a gradient spin-echo (PGSE) plus CPMG pulse sequence, which was used to encode diffusion properties and determine the effective diffusion–spin-spin relaxation correlation (D-T2) plot. Our data show no obvious change in the T2-distribution as S. oneidensis density varied in suspension, but show a clear distinction in the T2-distribution and D-T2 plots between live and dead cell pellets. A decrease in the T2-distribution is observed in the inoculated sand column. These results will provide a basis for understanding the effect of microbes within geologic media on low-field NMR measurements. This research is necessary to determine if NMR measurements can ultimately to be used to monitor microbial growth and activity in oil reservoirs or contaminated aquifers.