A flow cytometric method for viability assessment of Staphylococcus aureus and Burkholderia cepacia in mixed culture



Mixed bacterial communities are commonly encountered in microbial infections of humans. Knowledge on the composition of species and viability of each species in these communities allows for a detailed description of the complexity of interspecies dynamics and contributes to the assessment of the severity of infections. Several assays exist for quantification of specific species in mixed communities, including analysis of quantitative terminal restriction fragment length polymorphisms. While this method allows for species-specific cell enumeration, it cannot provide viability data. In this study, flow cytometry was applied to assess the viability of Staphylococcus aureus and Burkholderia cepacia in mixed culture by membrane integrity analysis using SYBR® Green I and propidium iodide staining. Both bacteria are relevant to pulmonary infections of cystic fibrosis patients. Fluorescence staining was optimized separately for each species in pure culture due to differences between species in cell wall structure and metabolic capabilities. To determine viability of species in mixed culture, a protocol was established as a compromise between optimum conditions determined before for pure cultures. This protocol allowed the detection of viable and dead cells of both species, exhibiting an intact and a permeabilized membrane, respectively. To discriminate between S. aureus and B. cepacia, the protocol was combined with Gram-specific fluorescent staining using wheat germ agglutinin. The established three-color staining method was successfully tested for viability determination of S. aureus and B. cepacia in mixed culture cultivations. In addition, growth of both species was monitored by quantitative terminal restriction fragment length polymorphisms. The obtained data revealed alterations in viability during cultivations for different growth phases and suggest interspecies effects in mixed culture. Overall, this method allows for rapid simultaneous Gram-differentiation and viability assessment of bacterial mixed cultures and is therefore suitable for the analysis of dynamics of mixed communities of medical, environmental, and biotechnological relevance. © 2012 International Society for Advancement of Cytometry