We describe the architecture of nitrifying bacteria biofilms immobilized on a three-dimensional (3D) polyurethane foam that permits efficient water flow through a bioreactor. The 3D spatial organization of immobilized bacterial colonies is characterized on three resolution levels with X-ray tomography, light confocal microscopy, and scanning electron microscopy (SEM). Using these techniques we demonstrate biofilm distribution in the foam and the existence of several modes of binding of bacteria to the foam. Computed X-ray tomography permits observation of the distribution of the biofilm in the whole open cellular polyurethane material volume and estimation of biofilm volume. SEM and confocal laser scanning microscopy techniques permit 3D visualization of biofilm structure. Three distinct immobilization patterns could be observed in the open cellular polyurethane material: (1) large irregular aggregates of bacterial biofilm that exist as irregular biofilm fragments, rope-like structures, or biofilm layers on the foam surface; (2) spherical (pom-pom) aggregates of bacteria localized on the external surface of biofilm; and (3) biofilm threads adherent to the surface of polyurethane foam. Finally, we demonstrate that immobilized bacteria exhibit metabolic activity and growth.
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