Strategies to overcome interferences during biomass monitoring with dielectric spectroscopy
Albornoz, Manuel Alberto Garcia
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Dielectric spectroscopy is extensively used to measure the level of viable biomass during fermentations but can suffer from interference by a variety of factors including the presence of dead cells, bubbles, electric and magnetic fields, changes in the medium composition, conductivity changes and the presence of non-cellular particles. Three different approaches were used to overcome these problems. The first involved the separate measurement of the spectra of the interferent and the cells. If the spectra were significantly different then spectra containing the signals of both cells and the interferent could be deconvoluted to separately determine the relative contribution of the cells and the interferent to the spectra. This deconvolution approach was successfully used to estimate the biomass levels of yeast in the presence of spent grains of barley and hardwood in the medium. A similar approach allowed the interference of electrode polarisation on spectra of yeast and microalgae to be compensated for. An attempt to determine the concentration of non-viable cells in a mixture of dead and live cells was less successful because the signal of the non-viable cells was quite small compared to that of viable cells. A second approach involved the use of a filter to keep the interferent away from the probe surface. This was used successfully in the measurement of the yeast concentration in the presence of spent barley grains. A third approach involved the use of a second sensor in addition to the biomass sensor. This allows the signal of the biomass sensor to be compensated for the interferent. In one set of experiments microelectrodes were developed which were able to confine the electric field to a small volume near the electrode surface. Covering the electrode surface with a gel or a membrane stopped cells from entering this volume whilst allowing medium to diffuse through. This allowed the measurement of changes in the electrical properties of the medium without a contribution by the cells. Whilst this approach worked, the response time was too long for practical use. More successful was the simultaneous measurement of the biomass with an infrared optical probe and a dielectric probe. It was found that the signal of the optical probe was independent of the cell viability, whilst the dielectric probe was quite insensitive to non-viable cells. The combined use of the dielectric probe and the optical probe allowed the culture viability to be determined in a straightforward manner.