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Appl Environ Microbiol. 1986 Sep; 52(3): 531–538.
PMCID: PMC203568

Viable but nonculturable stage of Campylobacter jejuni and its role in survival in the natural aquatic environment.


Conditions influencing the survival of Campylobacter jejuni in the natural aquatic environment have been determined. Release of Campylobacter spp. into natural waters by animal hosts is postulated to play a key role in the maintenance of viability and transmission of the organism in the environment. Laboratory flask microcosms containing filter-sterilized stream water were used to test C. jejuni for the ability to remain viable in simulated natural systems. The microcosms were compared with the biphasic and shaking broth procedures used routinely for growth of Campylobacter spp. in the research laboratory. The stream-water microcosms were analyzed to determine effects of temperature and aeration on the survival of a well-characterized C. jejuni strain isolated originally from a human campylobacteriosis patient. Morphological characteristics were evaluated by phase-contrast microscopy and scanning or transmission electron microscopy. Survival curves were quantified on the basis of plate counts, epifluorescent microscopy, optical density measurements, and direct viable counts associated with protein synthesis in the absence of DNA replication. A significant difference was observed between results of direct enumeration, i.e., direct viable counts or acridine orange direct counts, and those from spread plate cultures. In all cases, increasing temperature of cultivation resulted in decreased recoverability on laboratory media, due possibly to an increased metabolic rate, as analyzed by CO2 evolution in the presence of radiolabeled glutamate. Stream water held at low temperature (4 degrees C) sustained significant numbers of campylobacters for greater than 4 months. Microcosms, aerated with shaking, exhibited logarithmic decline in recoverable C. jejuni, while stationary systems underwent a more moderate rate of decrease to the nonculturable state.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

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