Effects of nonionic surfactants on the UV/visible absorption of bacterial cells

Derick G. Brown, Peter R. Jaffe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Nonionic surfactants are used in a number of different microbiological applications, including solubilization of cell membranes, washing bacterial cultures prior to experimentation, and enhancing biodegradation of low-solubility compounds. An important consideration in these applications is the potential for the surfactant to alter the cell membrane. One potential means to monitor the impact of surfactants on the bacterial cell membrane is through monitoring the absorbance spectrum of the bacterial suspension. This is due to the colloidal nature of bacteria, where the absorbance of a bacterial suspension is related to the size and refractive index of the bacterial cells. Through a systematic study it was shown that there can be a significant change in the bacterial absorbance spectrum due to the presence of nonionic surfactants, with the effect a function of surfactant structure and concentration, solution ionic strength and cation valence. The effects were most pronounced with Na+ as the cation, with surfactants having midrange hydrophile-lipophile balance (hlb) values, and with surfactant concentrations above the Cmc. The results indicate that measurement of the absorbance spectrum of bacterial cultures can provide a means to monitor the effects of nonionic surfactants on the bacterial cell membrane. In addition, depending on the specific application, appropriate selection of surfactant structure and media composition can be made to enhance or minimize the effects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)476-482
Number of pages7
JournalBiotechnology and Bioengineering
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 20 2001

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
  • Bioengineering
  • Biotechnology


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