Pioneering the Field of Molecular Biological Tools

Microbial Insights, Inc. (MI) was established in 1992 as a technology transfer company based on the pioneering research of Dr. David C. White, MD, PhD of the University of Tennessee. Dr. White was a true scholar, able to speak easily about international politics, philosophy, and religion, but was world renown for his immense contributions to science. His nearly 5 decade career includes over 540 publications that spanned cell physiology from electron transport to phospholipid fatty acid (PLFA) composition while introducing the concept of microbial ecology. For additional information on Dr. White’s research career and his impact not only on the microbiology field but also the next generation of scientists, please visit davidcwhite.org.

In 1998, MI became one of the first commercial laboratories to offer DNA based technologies including CENSUS, a molecular biological tool based on quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR), as a cost-effective approach to characterize microbial communities. At sites impacted by chlorinated solvents like tetrachloroethene (PCE) and trichloroethene (TCE) for example, project managers submit samples for CENSUS quantification of Dehalococcoides to directly evaluate the feasibility of monitored natural attenuation, quantify the efficacy of enhanced bioremediation, and assess the need for bioaugmentation. Currently, MI offers over 30 CENSUS assays to evaluate a wide variety of functions ranging from bioremediation of chlorinated solvents (PCE, TCE, DCE, VC, TCA, PCP, and perchlorate) and petroleum hydrocarbons (BTEX, PAHs, and MTBE) to wastewater treatment and biofilm formation. Moreover, MI strives to remain the industry leader for nucleic acid (DNA and RNA) technologies and can develop custom CENSUS assays for site specific microbial processes.

In collaboration with Dr. Kerry Sublette of the University of Tulsa, MI developed and first offered Bio-Trap Samplers in 1998.  Bio-Trap Samplers are passive sampling tools that collect microbes over time for the purpose of better understanding biodegradation potential. The key to the Bio-Trap approach is a unique sampling matrix, Bio-Sep beads. The beads are 2-3 mm in diameter and are engineered from a composite of Nomex and powdered activated carbon (PAC).  When a standard Bio-Trap Sampler is deployed in a monitoring well, the beads adsorb contaminants and nutrients present in the aquifer essentially becoming an in situ microcosm with an incredibly large surface area which is colonized by subsurface microorganisms. Alternatively, Bio-Traps can be “baited” with various amendments or compounds to answer site-specific questions. Once recovered from a monitoring well, DNA, RNA, or phospholipid fatty acids (PLFA) can be extracted from the beads for CENSUS or PLFA analysis to evaluate the microbial community.

The evolution of the Bio-Trap Samplers continues today through integration with complementary technologies. Bio-Trap Advanced Diagnostic Tools were developed as an in situ and cost-effective alternative to laboratory microcosm and pilot studies to provide microbiological, chemical, and geochemical evidence to evaluate remedial options. Bio-Trap Samplers have also been used in conjunction with stable isotope probing (SIP), an innovative method to track the environmental fate of a “labeled” contaminant of concern to unambiguously demonstrate biodegradation. With the SIP method, the Bio-Trap sampler is baited with a specially synthesized form of the contaminant containing 13C labeled carbon. Following deployment, the Bio-Trap is recovered and three approaches are used to conclusively demonstrate biodegradation: (1) loss of the labeled compound to estimate degradation rates, (2) quantification of 13C enriched PLFA to demonstrate incorporation into microbial biomass, and (3) quantification of 13C enriched dissolved inorganic carbon to demonstrate contaminant mineralization.

Throughout our history, MI has been dedicated to the development of analyses and advanced sampling tools to facilitate intelligent site design and management decisions in the environmental remediation industry. Moving forward, MI will continue to be on the leading edge of research and development – always exploring innovative technologies and new applications.