Microorganisms show an extremely huge diversity in species and metabolic activity, with remarkable impact on environmental processes, health and industry. A major focus of our group is therefore to improve process efficiency in biotechnology such as water treatment, and to find solutions to microbially-related problems such as biofouling, infection and contamination. Collaboration involves public and private enterprise, as well as colleagues from other disciplines to promote multi- and transdisciplinary research, and to align socio- and techno-ecological innovation.
- ERWAT Chair in Water Management, with emphasis on the persistence of micro-pollutants such as pharmaceuticals, personal care products and antimicrobials, management of pathogens, as well as biotechnology for resource recovery.
- Water purification and supply using novel technologies and by harnessing ecosystem services.
- Implication of microbial processes on large-scale operations, such as biofilm formation and facilitated precipitation in industrial and agricultural water lines, and the long-term performance of repositories of nuclear waste.
- Bacterial persistence at solid-air interfaces and the role of biofilms in antibiotic-resistance.
My research has emphasized that when culturing microbial communities, the environment defines the outcome rather than aseptic technique, and therefore recognised the need to develop model systems suitable to cultivate microbial communities in addition to pure-culture studies – to be used with other nascent technologies. I have been involved in the development of experimental systems for the cultivation and evaluation of microbial communities for a number of years: starting with a multichannel continuous flow cell system to study biofilm communities in real time that became a global standard in biofilm research –biofilm research groups around the globe use flow cells at some stage – many of them with little or no deviation from the version originally described (Wolfaardt et al. 1994), and were made commercially available by others. Subsequent developments, based on this concept include an optical large area photometer (Bester et al. 2005; Saftic et al, 2005), a ceramic-based diffusion system (Wolfaardt et al., 2008), a system for studying rock fracture biofilms (Starek et al., 2011), CO2 evolution measurement systems (CEMS) that measure whole-biofilm activity in real time (Kroukamp and Wolfaardt, 2009; Bester et al. 2010; Kroukamp et al. 2010, Dumitrache et al. 2013) and micro-fluidics (Bester et al. 2013; Babaei Aznaveh et al. 2014; Gashti et al. 2015).