Scalable and customizable parallel flow-through reactors to quantify biological processes related to contaminant attenuation by photosynthetic wetland microbial mats

Gary Vanzin, Henry Peel, Weishi Wang, Lily Bosworth, Zhaoxun Yang, Michael A.P. Vega, Colin Root, Adam Brady, Giuliana Romero Mariscal, Armando Arenazas Rodríguez, Juana Ticona, Lino Morales Paredes, Jonathan O. Sharp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Shallow, unit process open water wetlands harbor a benthic microbial mat capable of removing nutrients, pathogens, and pharmaceuticals at rates that rival or exceed those of more traditional systems. A deeper understanding of the treatment capabilities of this non-vegetated, nature-based system is currently hampered by experimentation limited to demonstration-scale field systems and static lab-based microcosms that integrate field-derived materials. This limits fundamental mechanistic knowledge, extrapolation to contaminants and concentrations not present at current field sites, operational optimization, and integration into holistic water treatment trains. Hence, we have developed stable, scalable, and tunable laboratory reactor analogs that offer the capability to manipulate variables such as influent rates, aqueous geochemistry, light duration, and light intensity gradations within a controlled laboratory environment. The design is composed of an experimentally adaptable set of parallel flow-through reactors and controls that can contain field-harvested photosynthetic microbial mats (“biomat”) and could be adapted for analogous photosynthetically active sediments or microbial mats. The reactor system is contained within a framed laboratory cart that integrates programable LED photosynthetic spectrum lights. Peristaltic pumps are used to introduce specified growth media, environmentally derived, or synthetic waters at a constant rate, while a gravity-fed drain on the opposite end allows steady-state or temporally variable effluent to be monitored, collected, and analyzed. The design allows for dynamic customization based on experimental needs without confounding environmental pressures and can be easily adapted to study analogous aquatic, photosynthetically driven systems, particularly where biological processes are contained within benthos. The diel cycles of pH and dissolved oxygen (DO) are used as geochemical benchmarks for the interplay of photosynthetic and heterotrophic respiration and likeness to field systems. Unlike static microcosms, this flow-through system remains viable (based on pH and DO fluctuations) and has at present been maintained for more than a year with original field-based materials. • Lab-scale flow-through reactors enable controlled and accessible exploration of shallow, open water constructed wetland function and applications. • The footprint and operating parameters minimize resources and hazardous waste while allowing for hypothesis-driven experiments. • A parallel negative control reactor quantifies and minimizes experimental artifacts.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102074
StatePublished - Jan 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Author(s)


  • Algae
  • Bioremediation
  • Engineered wetlands
  • Field-scale
  • Laboratory-scale
  • Nature-based treatment


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