Effect of dispersants on bacterial colonization of oil droplets: A microfluidic approach

Vincent Hickl, Gabriel Juarez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Bacteria biodegradation of immiscible oil requires cell-droplet encounters, surface attachment, and hydrocarbon metabolism. Chemical dispersants are applied to oil spills to reduce the mean dispersed droplet size, thereby increasing the available surface area for attachment, in attempts to facilitate bacterial biodegradation. However, their effectiveness remains contentious as studies have shown that dispersants can inhibit, enhance, or have no effect on biodegradation. Therefore, questions remain on whether dispersants affect surface attachment or cell viability. Here, using microfluidics and time-lapse microscopy, we directly observe the attachment and growth of the marine bacterium, Alcanivorax borkumensis, on stationary crude oil droplets (5 μm < R < 150 μm) in the presence of Corexit 9500. We show that the average colonization time, or the time comprised of encounters, attachment, and growth, is dependent on droplet size and primarily driven by diffusive encounters. Our results suggest that dispersants do not inhibit or enhance these biophysical processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number113645
JournalMarine Pollution Bulletin
StatePublished - May 2022


  • Chemical dispersants
  • Marine bacteria
  • Microfluidics
  • Microscopy
  • Oil biodegradation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pollution
  • Aquatic Science
  • Oceanography


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