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Biofilm Science & Engineering

Biofilm form when bacteria attach to wetted surfaces, and begin to excrete a slimy, glue-like substance. Colonies of biofilm bacteria carry out a variety of detrimental or beneficial reactions that affect all of us daily.

At the Center for Biofilm Engineering (CBE), multidisciplinary research teams find solutions and applications for industrially relevant problems and potentials of microbial biofilm formation. The CBE was established in 1990 as a National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center to foster a new approach to university engineering and science education.


Molecular Biosciences Program
612 Leon Johnson Hall
P.O. Box P.O. Box 172580,
Bozeman, MT 59717
Fax: 4069947212

Contact Us

Montana State University

Division of Graduate Education

Molecular Biosciences Program

P.O. Box 172580
Bozeman, MT 59717-2580

(406) 994-6652


Molecular BIOSciences |> Biofilm Science & Engineering
|> Faculty |> Robin Gerlach, Ph. D

Bioremediation and Biofilm Processes in Porous Media

Current Research

My research investigates the use of biofilms for the control and cleanup of contaminated soils and water, biologically enhanced carbon sequestration, and algal biofuel production. Both, fundamental and applied research is being conducted in my laboratories.

I am also the Director of the Environmental and Biofilm Mass Spectrometry Facility.

Subsurface Biofilm Barriers can be used to manipulate the hydraulic conductivity (permeability) of subsurface formations enabling us to decrease or direct the flow of groundwater. Subsurface biofilm barriers are also being developed for increased storage security during geologic carbon sequestration.

By improving our ability to transport bacteria and nutrients in the subsurface and designing biofilm barriers to be reactive (e.g. contaminant degrading) or non-reactive (simply for hydraulic control) we are intending to improve existing subsurface bioremediation technologies.

We are investigating the transformation of nitroaromatics (e.g. the explosive TNT - 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene), chlorinated aliphatic compounds (e.g. trichloroethylene - TCE and carbon tetrachloride - CT), heavy metals (e.g. chromate and dichromate), and radionuclides (e.g. uranium and strontium). The influence of natural organic matter, minerals, and co-contaminants is of specific interest to my research as well as the establishment of biogeochemical conditions (pH, redox potential, oxygen concentration, etc.) ideal for the safe removal of these contaminants from contaminated groundwater or immobilization in contaminated soils.

Lastly, the development of algae based technologies for liquid transportation fuel and other high value product generation is being investigated.

Recent Publications

CUNNINGHAM, A.B.; SHARP, R.S.; CACCAVO JR, F.; GERLACH, R.: Effects of Starvation on Bacterial Transport Through Porous Media. Advances in Water Resources. Accepted with revisions.

BORCH, T.; INSKEEP W.P.; HARWOOD, J.A.; R. GERLACH, R. (2005): Impact of Ferrihydrite and Anthraquinone-2,6-Disulphonate on the Reductive Transformation of 2,4,6-Trinitrotoluene by a Gram Positive Fermenting Bacterium. Environmental Science and Technology. 39, 18:7126-7133.

SEYMOUR, J.D.; GAGE, J.P.; CODD, S.L.; GERLACH, R. (2004): Anomalous Fluid Transport in Porous Media Induced by Biofilm Growth. Physical Review Letters. 93, 19:8101-8104.

BORCH, T.; GERLACH, R. (2004): Use of Reversed Phase High-Performance Liquid Chromatography-Diode Array Detection for Complete Separation of 2,4,6-Trinitrotoluene Metabolites and EPA Method 8330 Explosives: Influence of Column Temperature and Ion-Pair Reagent. Journal of Chromatography A. 1022: 83-94.

GERLACH, R., CUNNINGHAM, A.B. & CACCAVO, F. JR. (2000): Dissimilatory Iron-Reducing Bacteria Influence the Performance of Zero-Valent Iron. Environmental Science and Technology, 34, 2461-2464.

Robin Gerlach, Ph. D

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Updated: 8/16/08


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