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The role of zeta potential in the adhesion of E. coli to suspended intertidal sediments

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The extent of pathogen transport to and within aquatic systems depends heavily on whether the bacterial cells are freely suspended or in association with suspended particles. The surface charge of both bacterial cells and suspended particles affects cell-particle adhesion and subsequent transport and exposure pathways through settling and resuspension cycles. This study investigated the adhesion of Faecal Indicator Organisms (FIOs) to natural suspended intertidal sediments over the salinity gradient encountered at the transition zone from freshwater to marine environments. Phenotypic characteristics of three E. coli strains, and the zeta potential (surface charge) of the E. coli strains and 3 physically different types of intertidal sediments was measured over a salinity gradient from 0 – 5 Practical Salinity Units (PSU). A batch adhesion microcosm experiment was constructed with each combination of E. coli strain, intertidal sediment and 0, 2, 3.5 and 5 PSU. The zeta potential profile of one E. coli strain had a low negative charge and did not change in response to an increase in salinity, and the remaining E. coli strains and the sediments exhibited a more negative charge that decreased with an increase in salinity. Strain type was the most important factor in explaining cell-particle adhesion, however adhesion was also dependant on sediment type and salinity (2, 3.5 PSU > 0, 5 PSU). Contrary to traditional colloidal (Derjaguin, Landau, Vervey, and Overbeek (DLVO)) theory, zeta potential of strain or sediment did not correlate with cell-particle adhesion. E. coli strain characteristics were the defining factor in cell-particle adhesion, implying that diverse strain-specific transport and exposure pathways may exist. Further research applying these findings on a catchment scale is necessary to elucidate these pathways in order to improve accuracy of FIO fate and transport models.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)159-166
JournalWater Research
Early online date29 May 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2018

    Research areas

  • Pathogen, Adhesion, DLVO theory, Zeta potential, Intertidal sediment

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