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J Bacteriol. Oct 1991; 173(20): 6558–6567.
PMCID: PMC208993

Optical sectioning of microbial biofilms.


Scanning confocal laser microscopy (SCLM) was used to visualize fully hydrated microbial biofilms. The improved rejection of out-of-focus haze and the increased resolution of SCLM made it preferable to conventional phase microscopy for the analysis of living biofilms. The extent of image improvement was dependent on the characteristics of individual biofilms and was most apparent when films were dispersed in three dimensions, when they were thick, and when they contained a high number of cells. SCLM optical sections were amenable to quantitative computer-enhanced microscopy analyses, with minimal interference originating from overlying or underlying cell material. By using SCLM in conjunction with viable negative fluorescence staining techniques, horizontal (xy) and sagittal (xz) sections of intact biofilms of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Pseudomonas fluorescens, and Vibrio parahaemolyticus were obtained. These optical sections were then analyzed by image-processing techniques to assess the distribution of cellular and noncellular areas within the biofilm matrices. The Pseudomonas biofilms were most cell dense at their attachment surfaces and became increasingly diffuse near their outer regions, whereas the Vibrio biofilms exhibited the opposite trend. Biofilms consisting of different species exhibited distinctive arrangements of the major biofilm structural components (cellular and extracellular materials and space). In general, biofilms were found to be highly hydrated, open structures composed of 73 to 98% extracellular materials and space. The use of xz sectioning revealed more detail of biofilm structure, including the presence of large void spaces within the Vibrio biofilms. In addition, three-dimensional reconstructions of biofilms were constructed and were displayed as stereo pairs. Application of the concepts of architectural analysis to mixed- or pure-species biofilms will allow detailed examination of the relationships among biofilm structure, adaptation, and response to stress.

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Selected References

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