Nature Physics ( IF 19.256 ) Pub Date : 2020-09-14 , DOI: 10.1038/s41567-020-1002-x Pietro de Anna; Amir A. Pahlavan; Yutaka Yawata; Roman Stocker; Ruben Juanes
Natural soils are host to a high density1 and diversity2 of microorganisms, and even deep-earth porous rocks provide a habitat for active microbial communities3. In these environments, microbial transport by disordered flows is relevant for a broad range of natural and engineered processes, from biochemical cycling to remineralization and bioremediation4,5,6,7. Yet, how bacteria are transported and distributed in the subsurface as a result of the disordered flow and the associated chemical gradients characteristic of porous media has remained poorly understood, in part because studies have so far focused on steady, macroscale chemical gradients8,9,10. Here, we use a microfluidic model system that captures flow disorder and chemical gradients at the pore scale to quantify the transport and dispersion of the soil-dwelling bacterium Bacillus subtilis in porous media. We observe that chemotaxis strongly modulates the persistence of bacteria in low-flow regions of the pore space, resulting in a 100% increase in their dispersion coefficient. This effect stems directly from the strong pore-scale gradients created by flow disorder and demonstrates that the microscale interplay between bacterial behaviour and pore-scale disorder can impact the macroscale dynamics of biota in the subsurface.