Small doses, big troubles: Modeling growth dynamics of organisms affecting microalgal production cultures in closed photobioreactors
The destruction of mass cultures of microalgae by biological contamination of culture medium is a pervasive and expensive problem, in industry and research. A mathematical model has been formulated that attempts to explain contaminant growth dynamics in closed photobioreactors (PBRs). The model simulates an initial growth phase without PBR dilution, followed by a production phase in which culture is intermittently removed. Contaminants can be introduced at any of these stages. The model shows how exponential growth from low initial inocula can lead to " explosive" growth in the population of contaminants, appearing days to weeks after inoculation. Principal influences are contaminant growth rate, PBR dilution rate, and the size of initial contaminant inoculum. Predictions corresponded closely with observed behavior of two contaminants, Uronema sp. and Neoparamoeba sp., found in operating PBRs. A simple, cheap and effective protocol was developed for short-term prediction of contamination in PBRs, using microscopy and archived samples
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