Subsurface bacteria often have to travel significant distances through tortuous porous media for purposes of groundwater remediation. In modeling such processes, motile bacteria are often represented as suspended colloids, ignoring their individual swimming or diffusive properties. In fact, bacterial migration is much more profoundly affected by the presence of porous media than is that of a chemical contaminant. In this study, we use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to perform noninvasive measurements of changes in bacterial concentration distributions across a packed column at a spatial resolution of 330 microm as a function of time. We analyze the diffusive behavior of Pseudomonas putida F1 under static conditions and compare that behavior to the diffusion of a chemical solute and of Escherichia coli NR50. Results indicate that P. putida cells experience a column tortuosity 50 times higher than that predicted from solute diffusion experiments. E. coli cells, which display shorter swimming run lengths in bulk solution than P. putida, seem to be less affected by the constricted pore space. Knudsen diffusion, or reductions in run length because of interactions between the diffusing bacteria and the porous media, may help to explain some of this discrepancy.
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