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BMC Genomics. 2008 Dec 6;9:590. doi: 10.1186/1471-2164-9-590.

Transcriptional activity around bacterial cell death reveals molecular biomarkers for cell viability.

Author information

  • 1TNO Quality of Life, Business Unit Food and Biotechnology Innovations, Microbial Genomics Group, Utrechtseweg 48, Zeist, The Netherlands. remco.kort@tno.nl

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

In bacteriology, the ability to grow in selective media and to form colonies on nutrient agar plates is routinely used as a retrospective criterion for the detection of living bacteria. However, the utilization of indicators for bacterial viability-such as the presence of specific transcripts or membrane integrity-would overcome bias introduced by cultivation and reduces the time span of analysis from initiation to read out. Therefore, we investigated the correlation between transcriptional activity, membrane integrity and cultivation-based viability in the Gram-positive model bacterium Bacillus subtilis.

RESULTS:

We present microbiological, cytological and molecular analyses of the physiological response to lethal heat stress under accurately defined conditions through systematic sampling of bacteria from a single culture exposed to gradually increasing temperatures. We identified a coherent transcriptional program including known heat shock responses as well as the rapid expression of a small number of sporulation and competence genes, the latter only known to be active in the stationary growth phase.

CONCLUSION:

The observed coordinated gene expression continued even after cell death, in other words after all bacteria permanently lost their ability to reproduce. Transcription of a very limited number of genes correlated with cell viability under the applied killing regime. The transcripts of the expressed genes in living bacteria -- but silent in dead bacteria-include those of essential genes encoding chaperones of the protein folding machinery and can serve as molecular biomarkers for bacterial cell viability.

PMID:
19061518
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PMCID:
PMC2648990
Free PMC Article

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