Biogenic Cracks in Porous Rock
Abstract:Microorganisms growing on and inside porous rock may fracture it by various processes. Some of the mechanisms of biofouling and bioweathering are today identified and partially understood but most emphasis is on chemical weathering, while mechanical contributions have been neglected. However, as demonstrated by the perseverance of a seed germinating and cracking up a concrete block, the turgor pressure of living organisms can be very significant. Here, we present results of a systematic study of the effects of the mechanical forces of growing microbial populations on the weathering of porous media.
We designed a model porous medium made of glass beads held together by polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), a curable polymer. The rheological properties of the porous medium, whose shape and size are tunable, can be controlled by the ratio of crosslinker to base used in the PDMS (see Fig. 1). Glass and PDMS being inert to most chemicals, we are able to focus on the mechanical processes of biodeterioration, excluding any chemical weathering.
Inspired by recent measurements of the high pressure (~0.5 Mpa) exerted by a growing population of yeasts trapped in a microfluidic device, we show that yeast cells can be cultured homogeneously within porous medium until saturation of the porous space. We investigate then the effects of such an inner pressure on the mechanical properties of the sample.
Using the same model system, we study also the complex interplay between biofilms and porous media. We focus in particular on the effects of pore size on the penetration of the biofilm within the porous sample, and on the resulting deformations of the matrix, opening new perspectives into the understanding of life in complex geometry.
Figure 1. Left : cell culture growing in a model porous medium. The white spheres represent the grains, bonds are displayed in grey, and microbes in green. Right: microscopy picture of glass beads linked by PDMS bridges, scale bar: 100 μm.