An improved method for counting bacteria from sediments and turbid environments by epifluorescence microscopy


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We present a new procedure for effectively detaching particle-associated bacteria by 10% (v/v) methanol and sonication which is particularly suitable for samples with a high particle load and sediments. We also optimized the sample preparation by applying the highly dsDNA-specific fluorescent stain SybrGreen I together with an optically brilliant mounting medium (polyvinylalcohol 4–88, ‘moviol’) in one step. The new protocol allows a much faster, easy and less toxic handling of samples as compared to other methods. Cells are stained directly on a black Nuclepore filter and show an intensive fluorescence signal with low background. The detachment procedure was optimized with respect to the temperature of the 10% methanol solution (35°C), ultrasonication and centrifugation. The application of the new method in comparison with detachment procedures with pyrophosphate and Tween-80 with various types of marine samples including sediments always yielded higher numbers and/or higher fractions of particle-associated cells. Staining and mounting the samples with the moviol-SybrGreen I solution allowed an accurate and highly reproduceable enumeration of bacteria also in samples with high concentrations of SPM. Fixation of bacteria by glutardialdehyde resulted in a brighter fluorescence as compared to fixation by formalin. Because of the high specificity to dsDNA and bright fluorescence of SybrGreen I, the fast and easy handling and the possibility to store stained samples for at least several months at −20°C without any loss in fluorescence intensity, the newly developed method is also an attractive alternative to DAPI staining of aquatic bacteria.