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Appl Environ Microbiol. 1996 Dec;62(12):4521-8.

Relationship between the Intracellular Integrity and the Morphology of the Capsular Envelope in Attached and Free-Living Marine Bacteria.


The integrity of the intracellular structures and the presence and dimension of the capsular envelope were investigated in marine snow-associated and marine free-living bacteria by transmission electron microscopy and special fixation techniques. Three categories depending on the presence of internal structures were differentiated. In marine snow, 51% of the marine snow-associated bacterial community was considered intact, 26% had a partly degraded internal structure, and 23% were empty with only the cell wall remaining. For the free-living bacterial community, 34% were intact cells, 42% exhibited damage, and 24% of the cells were lacking any internal structure. We also investigated the morphology and the extent of the bacterial capsular envelope. More than 95% of all intact marine snow-associated bacteria were surrounded by a capsule while (apprx=)55% of empty marine snow-associated bacteria had no capsule. For free-living bacteria, (apprx=)65% of the intact cells had a capsule while (apprx=)80% of the empty free-living bacteria lacked a capsule. Thus there is a clear trend from intact cells which are commonly surrounded by a capsular envelope to empty bacteria for which only the cell wall is remaining. Since bacterioplankton represent the largest living surface in the ocean, it is concluded that the release of intracellular material from bacteria into the environment as well as the release of extracellular capsular material might fuel the dissolved organic matter pool of the ocean.

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