Modern day injection and recovery techniques designed to examine the transport behavior of microorganisms in groundwater have evolved from experiments conducted in the late 1800s, in which bacteria that form red or yellow pigments were used to trace flow paths through karst and fractured- rock aquifers. A number of subsequent groundwater hydrology studies employed bacteriophage that can be injected into aquifers at very high concentrations (e g., 1013 phage ml-1) and monitored through many log units of dilution to follow groundwater flow paths for great distances, particularly in karst terrain. Starting in the 1930s, microbial indicators of fecal contamination (particularly coliform bacteria and their coliphages) were employed as tracers to determine potential migration of pathogens in groundwater. Several injection and recovery experiments performed in the 1990s employed indigenous groundwater microorganisms (both cultured and uncultured) that are better able to survive under in situ conditions. Better methods for labeling native bacteria (e.g by stable isotope labeling or inserting genetic markers; such as the ability to cause ice nucleation) are being developed that will not compromise the organisms' viability during the experimental time course.
Additional publication details
Microorganisms as tracers in groundwater injection and recovery experiments: A review