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Predicting biofilm deformation with a viscoelastic phase field model: modeling and experimental studies
  • Mengfei Li,
  • Karel Matouš,
  • Robert Nerenberg
Mengfei Li
University of Notre Dame
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Karel Matouš
University of Notre Dame
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Robert Nerenberg
University of Notre Dame
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Peer review status:ACCEPTED

16 Apr 2020Submitted to Biotechnology and Bioengineering
16 Apr 2020Submission Checks Completed
16 Apr 2020Assigned to Editor
23 Apr 2020Reviewer(s) Assigned
10 May 2020Review(s) Completed, Editorial Evaluation Pending
10 May 2020Editorial Decision: Revise Major
19 Jun 20201st Revision Received
19 Jun 2020Submission Checks Completed
19 Jun 2020Assigned to Editor
10 Jul 2020Review(s) Completed, Editorial Evaluation Pending
10 Jul 2020Editorial Decision: Accept


Biofilms commonly develop in flowing aqueous environments, where the flow causes the biofilm to deform. Because biofilm deformation affects the flow regime, and because biofilms behave as complex heterogeneous viscoelastic materials, few models are able to predict biofilm deformation. In this study, a phase field continuum model coupled with the Oldroyd-B constitutive equation was developed and used to simulate biofilm deformation. The accuracy of the model was evaluated using two types of biofilms: a synthetic biofilm, made from alginate mixed with bacterial cells, and a Pseudomonas aeruginosa biofilm. Shear rheometry was used to experimentally determine the mechanical parameters for each biofilm, as inputs for the model. Biofilm deformation under fluid flow was monitored experimentally using optical coherence tomography. The fit between the experimental and modeling geometries after fluid-driven deformation was very good, with relative errors of 12.8% for synthetic biofilm and 22.2% for homogenized P. aeruginosa biofilm. This is the first demonstration of the effectiveness of a viscoelastic phase field biofilm model. This model provides an important tool for predicting biofilm viscoelastic deformation. It also can benefit the design and control of biofilms in engineering systems.