Pore-scale simulation of microbial growth using a genome-scale metabolic model: Implications for Darcy-scale reactive transport

G. D. Tartakovsky, A. M. Tartakovsky, T. D. Scheibe, Y. Fang, R. Mahadevan, D. R. Lovley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent advances in microbiology have enabled the quantitative simulation of microbial metabolism and growth based on genome-scale characterization of metabolic pathways and fluxes. We have incorporated a genome-scale metabolic model of the iron-reducing bacteria Geobacter sulfurreducens into a pore-scale simulation of microbial growth based on coupling of iron reduction to oxidation of a soluble electron donor (acetate). In our model, fluid flow and solute transport is governed by a combination of the Navier-Stokes and advection-diffusion-reaction equations. Microbial growth occurs only on the surface of soil grains where solid-phase mineral iron oxides are available. Mass fluxes of chemical species associated with microbial growth are described by the genome-scale microbial model, implemented using a constraint-based metabolic model, and provide the Robin-type boundary condition for the advection-diffusion equation at soil grain surfaces.Conventional models of microbially-mediated subsurface reactions use a lumped reaction model that does not consider individual microbial reaction pathways, and describe reactions rates using empirically-derived rate formulations such as the Monod-type kinetics. We have used our pore-scale model to explore the relationship between genome-scale metabolic models and Monod-type formulations, and to assess the manifestation of pore-scale variability (microenvironments) in terms of apparent Darcy-scale microbial reaction rates. The genome-scale model predicted lower biomass yield, and different stoichiometry for iron consumption, in comparison to prior Monod formulations based on energetics considerations. We were able to fit an equivalent Monod model, by modifying the reaction stoichiometry and biomass yield coefficient, that could effectively match results of the genome-scale simulation of microbial behaviors under excess nutrient conditions, but predictions of the fitted Monod model deviated from those of the genome-scale model under conditions in which one or more nutrients were limiting.The fitted Monod kinetic model was also applied at the Darcy scale; that is, to simulate average reaction processes at the scale of the entire pore-scale model domain. As we expected, even under excess nutrient conditions for which the Monod and genome-scale models predicted equal reaction rates at the pore scale, the Monod model over-predicted the rates of biomass growth and iron and acetate utilization when applied at the Darcy scale. This discrepancy is caused by an inherent assumption of perfect mixing over the Darcy-scale domain, which is clearly violated in the pore-scale models. These results help to explain the need to modify the flux constraint parameters in order to match observations in previous applications of the genome-scale model at larger scales. These results also motivate further investigation of quantitative multi-scale relationships between fundamental behavior at the pore scale (where genome-scale models are appropriately applied) and observed behavior at larger scales (where predictions of reactive transport phenomena are needed).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)256-270
Number of pages15
JournalAdvances in Water Resources
StatePublished - Sep 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Biogeochemistry
  • Genome-scale model
  • Geobacter
  • Metal reduction
  • Pore-scale
  • Simulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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