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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2007 Oct;73(20):6386-90. Epub 2007 Aug 24.

Incubation of environmental samples in a diffusion chamber increases the diversity of recovered isolates.

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  • 1Northeastern University, Department of Biology, 134 Mugar Life Science Building, 360 Huntington Ave., Boston, MA 02115, USA.


The majority of microorganisms from natural environments cannot be grown in the laboratory. The diffusion-chamber-based approach is an alternative method that allows microorganisms to grow in their natural environment. An inoculum is sandwiched between semipermeable (0.03-mum-pore-size) membranes of the chamber, which is then returned to the source environment. The chamber allows for a free exchange of chemicals with the external milieu by diffusion while restricting the movement of cells. We used freshwater pond sediment to inoculate diffusion chambers and petri dishes. The diffusion chambers were incubated on top of the sediment for 4 weeks. Both chamber and petri dish cultivation resulted in the isolation of numerous representatives of Alpha-, Beta-, and Gammaproteobacteria; Actinobacteria; Firmicutes; and Bacteroidetes. However, the diffusion-chamber-based approach also led to the isolation of species from rarely cultivated groups, such as Deltaproteobacteria, Verrucomicrobia, Spirochaetes, and Acidobacteria. Material from the chambers was also transferred to new chambers in order to learn whether this will increase the recovery of isolates. Several isolates could be obtained only from material transferred through multiple diffusion chambers. This suggests that continuous cultivation in diffusion chambers adapts some microorganisms for growth under otherwise prohibitive in vitro conditions.

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