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Keywords:

  • bacteria;
  • membrane;
  • stress;
  • adaptation;
  • ion flux;
  • microelectrode technique

Abstract

The regulation of membrane-transport activity is crucial for intracellular pH homeostasis, maintenance of cell osmotic potential, nutrient acquisition, signalling, and adaptation of bacterial cells. The non-invasive microelectrode ion flux estimation (MIFE) technique is a powerful tool for kinetic studies of membrane-transport processes across cellular membranes. Since 2001, when this technique was first applied to the study of membrane-transport processes in bacterial cells (J Microbiol Methods46, 119–129), a large amount of information has been accumulated. This review summarizes some of these findings and discusses the advantages and applicability of this technique in studying bacterial adaptive responses to adverse environmental conditions. First, various methodological aspects of the application of this novel technique in microbiology are discussed. Then, several practical examples (‘case studies’) are described. The latter include changes in membrane-transport activity in response to various stresses (acidic, osmotic, and temperature stresses) as well as flux changes as a function of bacterial growth stage and nutrient availability. It is shown that non-invasive ion flux measurements may provide a significant conceptual advance in our understanding of adaptive responses in bacteria, fungi and biofilms to a variety of environmental conditions. The technique can also be used for the rapid assessment of food-processing treatments aimed at reducing bacterial contamination of food and for the development of strategies to assess the resistance of organisms to antimicrobial agents.