From individual response to population ecology: Environmental factors restricting survival of vegetative bacteria at solid-air interfaces

Rosha Pashang, Kimberley A. Gilbride

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2 Citations (SciVal)
22 Downloads (Pure)


Combating microbial survival on dry surfaces contributes to improving public health in indoor environments (clinical and industrial settings) and extends to the natural environment. For vegetative bacteria at solid-air interfaces, lack of water impacts cellular response, and acclimation depends on community support in response to ecological processes. Gaining insights about important ecological processes leading to inhibition of microbial survival under extreme conditions, such as vicinity of highly radioactive nuclear waste, is key for improving engineering designs. Canada plans to store used nuclear fuel and radioactive waste in a deep geological repository (DGR) with a multiple-barrier system constructed at an approximate depth of 500 m. Microorganisms in highly compacted bentonite surrounding used fuel containers will be challenged by high pressure, temperature, and radiation, as well as limited water and nutrients. Thus, it is difficult to estimate microbial activities, given that the prime concern for a microbial community is survival, and energy expenditure is regulated. To enable preventive measures and for risk evaluation, a deeper understanding of community-based survival strategies of bacterial cells exposed to air (gaseous phase) during prolonged periods of desiccation is required. An in-depth review of collective studies that assess microbial survival and persistence during desiccation is presented here to augment and direct our prior knowledge about tactics used by bacteria for survival at interfaces in hostile natural environments including and similar to a DGR.

Original languageEnglish
Article number144982
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date5 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to acknowledge the Nuclear Waste Management Organization of Canada and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada for research funding. The authors thank Drs. Gideon M. Wolfaardt, Otini Kroukamp, Jennifer R. Mckelvie, and Darren R. Korber for facilitating and guiding the collaborative project between NWMO and the universities. We would like to thank Dr. Fraser King for sharing results from his study on relative humidity prediction. Appreciation is extended to Dr. Andrew Laursen for reviewing this manuscript and Yana Stepchenko for her contribution to the design of the graphical abstract.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Elsevier B.V.

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Bentonite
  • Deep geological repository
  • Desiccation
  • Nuclear waste management
  • Solid-air interfaces
  • Vegetative bacteria

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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